Jeanne Sager | Democrat
SULLIVAN COUNTY'S LATEST crop of volunteer fireman to graduate from their first major training class celebrated months of work with their families. Austin, 7, and Logan, 2, showed they’re proud of dad, Michael Congelosi, of Neversink.
Firefighting training enters Internet age
By Jeanne Sager
NEVERSINK Easy isn’t a word associated with the fire service.
It’s a volunteer position in Sullivan County that’s more like a job.
But the first class to graduate from Sullivan County’s blended learning version of firefighting’s most basic school know the fire service wants them enough to make life a little easier.
Traditionally, a class that requires 86 hours with an instructor, Firefighter 1 is the must-pass course for any volunteer who plans to enter a burning building.
The 16 firemen from far flung ends of Sullivan County who graduated Tuesday night had to pass their class too.
But they only spent 60 hours of training in the physical presence of instructor Brian Soller.
The remainder of their work was done online, in the privacy of their own homes at the times that were most convenient to them working around family, jobs and for some, high school.
“Maybe it’s 10 o’clock in the morning because that’s what’s good for him, maybe it’s at 2 o’clock in the morning because he works odd hours,” Soller explained.
There are no shortcuts here. The firemen take pre-tests and tests. They do their hands-on training with Soller and other members of the Sullivan County fire instruction team guiding them.
“It’s not the easy way out,” Soller warned. “It’s a different type of person who takes this class.
“The person who signs up for this class has to be motivated to do the work themselves.
“They still have to commit to the program.”
But in a day and age when volunteerism is dipping and the need is increasing, blended learning is sweetening the pot for volunteers.
They’re committing their time in a way that works for them.
Twenty guys signed up for the first ever blended learning class in Sullivan County.
Between the second week in April and the last week in June, 16 men practiced and studied and practiced some more.
Tuesday night, they stood on the stage at the Neversink Firehall to celebrate. They are now certified by New York State to serve their communities.
One more class and they could be certified to serve communities nationwide.
Soller calls Firefighter 1 “basic training.”
The older generation of firemen remembers it as Firefighting Essentials. That took just 39 hours.
Today’s firemen aren’t just learning the science of battling a blaze.
They’re learning the history of the fire service, how to handle a hazardous material situation, what it means to be a fireman.
“It really brings about the brotherhood of the fire department,” explained Len Adams, a fire instructor and volunteer with the Jeffersonville Fire Department.
Adams just graduated a traditional 86-hour Firefighter 1 class last month.
Each weekend, his students gathered away from him usually organized by Lava volunteer Rob Treacey to practice.
They were already faced with 86 hours away from their families to prepare for a volunteer situation that will require countless hours away from home.
But they put in that extra time together to better themselves. Most importantly for Adams, they did it together.
“Once they finish this class, they really become part of a family,” he explained.
If you ask the graduates why they’ve done it, the answers vary.
“They do it for their community,” Adams said. “They do it to carry on a family tradition.”
They join because their co-workers are firemen only to find out like Soller did that they’re still a fireman 20 years later, a past chief and a four-year state instructor.
And at some point they cease to be volunteers. They’re simply firemen doing a job that will never be easy.
“That fire doesn’t check you at the door to see whether you’re paid or volunteer,” Soller explained. “It doesn’t ask for a union card.”
The next round of blended learning classes will begin in September. Thanks to the technology, the county has been able to increase it’s usual schedule of two Firefighter 1 sessions per year to three.
For information, check out the Sullivan County Bureau of Fire on the Sullivan County government Website at www.scgnet.us.