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Instructor hopes to ignite interest in fire safety

Staff writer

There’s more to firefighting than just putting out fires Ashley Sheridan of Lehigh will say if asked. She trains firefighters for a variety of situations they might encounter. However, to promote growth within Peabody Fire Department and apply for grants, she and Chief Mark Penner are going back to basics.

Penner hopes that teaching basics before building with other training will create interest among younger residents in joining the force.

“I think it will be a good refresher for our older people on the department, and could be a good stepping stone for younger people who want to have a career in firefighting because it gets their foot in the door,” Penner said. “You can’t ever stop training because it’s ever evolving.”

Classes like Firefighting 1 and 2, which Sheridan plans to teach, are required in most firefighting programs and can cost hundreds of dollars. However, Sheridan said, most of the classes are free for volunteer firefighters, and if there are costs, the department tries to assist with them.

Classes coupled with experience gained by working with the volunteer force could be a stepping stone for those looking to make firefighting a career.

Peabody Fire Department has 18 volunteer firefighters with room for 23. Penner said a handful of older fighters will retire in the next two years, leaving the department looking for volunteers.

“The younger generations don’t want to volunteer like the older generations,” Penner said.

Being current on training also will help the department when applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants.

“Part of our fire district extends into Harvey County, and they seem to be up to training that we want to start because they’re applying for a large FEMA grant,” Penner said. “If they are awarded that grant, we will be the recipient of some, so we have to be compliant as well.”

Sheridan plans to offer basic courses every year to keep the department compliant and provide refreshers.

“Training takes time, and since we’re a volunteer department it isn’t always possible to find time to train every week,” Sheridan said. “This way we can get it done gradually and not have to cram a whole bunch of classes at the last minute when applying for grants.”

The department received a $4,000 grant in May to conduct training and buy a cofferdam for grain rescues. While no incident where a cofferdam was needed has happened in Sheridan’s lifetime, better to be prepared, she said.

A specialized trailer with a compartment filled with grain allowed firefighters to safely learn how to extract people from piles of grain. A “victim” was buried to his waist in grain, and firefighters had to construct a cofferdam around him.

“In grain situations the more a victim pushes the grain away, the more pressure it adds when it reforms around them,” Sheridan said. “The cofferdam allows us to build a tube-like structure around the victim and pump the grain immediately around them out so they can be extracted.”

Firefighters also learned proper technique for cutting open elevator silos to remove large amounts of grain around people who are completely buried.

“Bringing in training like this helps build us as a team and can help save our lives and those we’re trying to help,” Sheridan said.

Penner said training exercises like the grain extraction were extremely important because might be the only department in the area certified for a specific situation. The department’s cofferdam is one of two in the county, Penner said, meaning his firefighters could respond to instances all over the county if needed.

“The more we know, the better we can do our jobs,” Penner said. “We can show up to any situation and know what to do to save lives or property before much damage is done. At the end of the day our goal is simple: to protect people and property and make sure everyone returns home.”

Sheridan is planning hazard training and other specialized training sessions along with the basics.

“The future looks bright here,” Penner said, “and there are a lot of things we want to do and we hope we can get everyone on board and some people of the younger generation to be interested in joining us.”

Last modified July 17, 2014

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