Twelve Warwick Fire Fighter recruits wrapped up their 14th week of training Friday and have four more weeks to go before graduating on Nov. 28. Since the summer, they’ve been doing extensive training each morning beginning at 7 a.m. and going on until about 5 in the evening.
Despite long days, rigorous workouts and the fact that they will be putting their lives on the line to serve the city, the recruits are honored to do so. Many are following in the footsteps of family members who also are active or retired firefighters.
Among them are Warwick residents recruit Daniel Vale, 30, who said he was inspired to be a firefighter by his father and grandfather, as well as Recruit Matthew Wood, 22.
“I want to continue the tradition of my family,” said Wood, a second-generation firefighter, as his father was a North Kingstown firefighter.
During training, he said he’s learned a lot about discipline, and the importance of respecting his fellow firefighters.
“We’re all brothers,” Wood said.
For recruit Randall Hoxsie, 20, also of Warwick, his grandfather and two uncles were firefighters in Cranston. He is proud to carry on the family tradition, plus assist the general public.
“I definitely want to make a difference in peoples’ lives,” he said. “We can get called to just about anything you can imagine in a moment’s notice and you have to be prepared to adapt to a situation and overcome it. You have to be ready. Warwick was my number one choice because it’s the best fire department in the state. I always wanted to be one of the best, so I’m glad to be here.”
Recruit Andrew Rushton, 25, of Jamestown said he, too, loves the Warwick department. He is pleased to be serving the city.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that’s community service-oriented and this seemed like the perfect thing,” Rushton said. “Now that I’m here, it was definitely a solid choice.”
Vale, along with recruit Ehren Smith, 30, of Warwick, feels the same. Further, they enjoy the variety the job offers.
“Every time you come to work, it’s something different,” said Vale. “You get a very large range of skills and learn new things every time. It’s never repetitive.”
“Every shift is different,” he said. “It’s a career where you can use your head, skills and training in many different situations.” He went on to say that training comes in handy on multiple levels. “It helps you overcome any fears, anxieties and situations that are unknown.”
Deputy Chief Frank Colantonio, who created the training program at the Warwick Fire Department, said the recruits started training by learning discipline, basic fire procedure and physical fitness, which includes two hours of running and swimming each day. At times, they run up to seven miles in one day.
“It’s a physical job, so we stress the importance of them keeping a good physical shape for their careers,” Colantonio said.
To stay fit, the recruits jog through city streets, frequent the track at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, and often use McDermott Pool to swim and learn proper ways to implement water rescues. They are certified by diving instructors and trained to operate rescue boats.
“We have 39 miles of coastline, as well as numerous ponds, so we go over boating instances,” said Colantonio. For example, the WFD recently coordinated the search for a blip initially thought to be a plane that T.F. Green Airport lost on radar. Fortunately, after conducting a search, the WFD, along with the FAA, reported that it was not a plane, rather a flock of birds.
After physical training, the recruits proceed to classroom time. It is followed by practical application skills they are required to perform to reinforce what they’ve learned. In terms of classroom lessons, the department follows the standards of the National Fire Protection Association.
Also, they visit various facilities throughout the city to practice live fire attack scenarios. They search obstructions, trenches, tunnels, perform ventilation activities to clear the smoke out of a building, as well as other search and multiple rescue situations, including how to rescue people in high-rises. For this, they use the parking garage at T.F. Green, as it’s 70 feet tall.
They are also taught emergency medical services.
“We also teach them firefighter self-rescue, which is extremely important,” said Capt. James Maxfield, who ensures that the recruits are fulfilling their obligations, such as being on time and attending all their classes. “In case a firefighter gets jammed up, it helps them get out of a jam, or how to get another firefighter out of a jam.”
Moreover, Maxfield said recruits are taught day-to-day operations, such as phone conduct, being respectful to the public and how to properly maintain equipment. They must learn to operate vehicles, including fire trucks, which can weigh up to 30 tons each, and are liable for minor maintenance of vehicles.
“They get a lot of training in a short amount of time and there is a lot of responsibility,” Colantonio said. “They are on the go all the time.”
Before they are accepted to the program, incoming recruits must pass a background check, as well as have a Rhode Island state driver’s license and high school diploma. They also must pass a physical performance evaluation through the Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s office. Most fire departments throughout the state require this.
“They have to have that certificate in order to apply and it’s good for a year,” Colantonio said. The recruits then take a written test and oral interview. Their overall ranking is determined by the combination of the two scores.
According to Chief Edmund Armstrong, a second recruit class of 20 will begin training Nov. 19. He said expenses of 17 of the 20 would be covered under a $3.1 million AFG Safer grant that the administration recently wrote, applied for and received. The grant covers training, salaries and benefits while training, as well as salaries and benefits for two years. The other three recruits will be financed through budget codes for salaries.
Armstrong said recruits are paid $600 a week. After graduation, they earn $879 per week, or $45,708 annually.
Aside from the recruits already mentioned, the current class includes the following men: Jonathan Agajanian, Joshua Clift, Ryan Dursin, Jacob Gabrielson, Michael Keller Jr., Nicolas Pella and John White.