BALLSTON SPA >> Firefighters are faced with potentially life-and-death decisions each time they answer a call.
When the heat is on, there’s no time to think – preparation, experience and training are critical to saving lives and staying safe in the process.
Elected officials got a first-hand look at the many types of incidents firefighters respond to during a multi-agency exercise at Saratoga County’s Byron J. Baker Fire Training Center in Ballston Spa Saturday.
“It’s an eye-opener for the folks that fund us; the dedication, equipment and resources involved,” said Peter Shaw, assistant Saratoga Springs fire chief. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else will pop up. It’s not just fires now. If somebody doesn’t know who else to call they call the fire department. It could be hazmat (hazardous materials), wires down or a pump-out when there’s a flood. We have to be the jack of all trades.”
About 100 personnel, seasoned firefighters and trainees alike, representing nearly a dozen paid and volunteer departments, from South Glens Falls to Waterford, took part.
The activity was specifically designed to let public officials see how tax dollars are spent on training. and marked the first time they’ve been invited to such an event. Leaders at all levels turned out – several county supervisors and town board members along with Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano and state Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon.
Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen said, “This gives us an actual hands-on view of what they do every day for our county.”
The training center is used several times per week, not just by local fire companies, but some from neighboring counties such as Warren, Washington and Rensselear, too.
The facility prepares firefighters for all kinds of situations. A multi-story live burn building was installed several years ago to give personnel experience with structure fires. When responding, firefighters don’t just try to extinguish a blaze. Many things are involved, such as ventilation and search-and rescue that require teamwork.
“All these functions have to be coordinated,” said Ed Tremblay, Saratoga County fire coordinator.
The burn building cost $875,000. But it’s price is invaluable considering the lives that might be saved through proper training.
The center also teaches firefighters how to respond to vehicle fires and extrications in addition to railroad tank car fires. Saturday’s participants even learned how to drive large emergency vehicles.
The event was hosted by the Saratoga County Fire Advisory Protection Board, comprised of representatives from each town and city in the county. The board meets monthly to ensure that all fire companies are following the same standardized incident and mutual aid procedures.
This way, firefighters from different agencies – sometimes complete strangers – know how to work together when responding to a serious call.
“We showed how valuable that live fire training is,” said board Chairman Bob Palmieri, of Mechanicville. “It’s important to feel the heat and smell the smoke before you have to do it for real.”