:“Warwick is the best city to work for hands down,” several fire academy recruits said Friday.
The Warwick Fire Department has 16 recruits in the 18-week training academy. On Friday, the end of the 10th week of training, the recruits congregated in front of Target on Bald Hill Rd. to simulate a rescue situation involving elevation.
Frank Colantonio, deputy chief of safety and training for the Fire Department, explained, “Five days a week we have them up by 6:30 a.m. to workout, there is an obvious physical intensity to the program. Two to three times a week we have the recruits in a pool practicing water rescues. The training is extensive.”
The recruits were practicing on a nearly 100-foot embankment. Colantonio mentioned that there are times when cars roll over and fall into an embankment, referencing the car roll last week near the Showcase Cinemas. The recruits also train in close quarter rescues and through various elevations and even practice a live burn.
Keith Hankins, Jenny Sayles, Stephanie Gonsalves, and Douglas Hammond, four of the 16 recruits for Warwick, all expressed how grateful they were for the opportunity to train for Warwick’s fire department.
Hankins said, “There is a pride in working for Warwick; it’s the best department in the state.”
“We all took a long road to get here,” Hammonds said.
Hankins and Hammonds had both been firefighters in other municipalities and are going through their second training academy.
It is the first time both Sayles and Gonsalves are going through the academy. Sayles was working as a teacher in Cranston and Gonsalves worked for a private EMS.
Both are also the first women to be accepted into the fire academy in more than 20 years since Kristine Squeo, now retired after 20 years of service, joined in 1990.
Sayles said, “To be the first two women in 20 years is humbling.”
Gonsalves said, “When you want something, you have to get it, even if it’s hard work. You have to have everyone’s back just as much as they have yours.”
Everyone agreed Gonsalves and Sayles are being treated no differently than the rest of the recruits.
Chief of Safety and Training Jim Maxfield said, “It is no different, they fit right in.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian said in an email, “We are very happy to have two females in this recruit class. It is a vigorous training program for all recruits and we look forward to their successful completion and their joining the Warwick Fire Department.”
Chief Edmund Armstrong said, “Both of them are doing an excellent job. They work and train just as well as anybody. They are great firefighters.”
All the recruits had different reasons to join the department, but the overwhelming consensus was to help people.
Hankins said he had always enjoyed helping people and wanted to continue helping his neighbors and his community.
“I was an athlete growing up and I wanted to be on a team again,” Sayles said.
The recruits, who face another eight weeks of training, have created a strong bond.
“It’s a brotherhood. The training unites you through blood, sweat, and tears,” Hammonds said.
Sayles said, “We work hard together; these are my brothers and sisters, they are a second family to me.”
The recruits were all very thankful to their teachers, noting much of their progress would have been futile without them.
“So much of what they are teaching us aren’t things you can learn from a book. It comes from experience,” Hammonds said.
Gonsalves mentioned that throughout their training they should never stop learning.
Maxfield commented that even once they are sworn in, the recruits would still be going through two years of extensive training.
“It’s exciting to see them succeed,” Maxfield said. “Some will fair better than others, but it’s an ongoing process. Once they are sworn in, they will continually be tested.”
The team is excited to take their next steps together, first finishing training and then being sworn in to serve the citizens of Warwick.