New Wheeling Fire Fighters Complete Intense Training

New Firefighters Learn How to Take the Heat

Photo Provided Wheeling Fire Department’s newest probationary firefighters include, from left: Niko Kefauver, Dan Gordon, Josh Berka and Patrick Donley.

WHEELING — Imagine your job includes crawling through a tight, dark maze or carrying around a tank of oxygen on your back for survival.

That’s just a few of the things four new Wheeling Fire Department recuits experienced as part of their entry-level six weeks of training. The new recruits recently graduated and are now probationary firefighters.

Patrick Donley, Josh Berka, Dan Gordon and Niko Kefauver have endured a variety of classroom and physical firefighting training exercises since mid-February to become the newest members of Wheeling Professional Firefighters Local 12.

Assistant Chief Jim Blazier said the recruits had to go through a combination of classroom and hands-on training exercises before being assigned to one of the department’s three rotating platoon shifts. He said it is a requirement from the state fire marshal’s office that, before the department can put a firefighter in a department vehicle, they are required to have a certain amount of training.

“We start out with the basics. … The first six weeks that we have them here, we are satisfying those specific training requirements set forth by the state fire marshal’s office,” said Blazier. “Every fire department in the State of West Virginia is held to the same standards as far as the training goes,” he commented, as the recruits worked with search and low viability rescue drills in full personal protective equipment (including their self-contained breathing apparatus). Each member of the new class had to take his turn crawling through “confidence maze boxes” inside the South Wheeling fire house.

The drill helps recruits learn how to crawl and negotiate their way through tight spaces while wearing heavy gear and their breathing apparatus.

Blazier said they purposely make the drill unrealistically difficult in an effort to train the recruits for worst case scenarios.

Blazier said each firefighter must learn how to put on his protective equipment properly and become comfortable with wearing the breathing apparatus during the drills. Several other classes and training drills the recruits endured over the six-week period included: extrication and hazmat training, emergency vehicle driving, operation of hose lines and first aid.

“It’s a lot to take in in the first six weeks,” Blazier said.

He said each firefighter has been assigned to an apparatus on the department and will be under the guidance of a company officer.

Blazier said a lot of the training the recruits went through addressed fire suppression duties with an emphasis on safety and awareness. He said the training escalates over the six weeks to where they eventually work with extinguishing a “live burn” at the training tower. He said this part of this training gets them exposed to working in a hot, smoky environment with low visability. Another aspect of the training includes being able to establish water supply lines at fire hydrants.

Blazier said the training is quite extensive for those with no previous experience, but for applicants already certified who come from another department, the training would be adjusted for that individual. He said they would still be required to go through several weeks of training geared specifically to the Wheeling department.

Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms said the training for new recruits is rather rigorous process and potential candidates first have to pass a written exam and physical ability test before his or her name is put on the hiring list. Helms said firefighting is certainly a career that is not for everyone because of the amount of physical and mental toughness involved. He said the Wheeling Fire Department typically has two or three recruit classes a year.

“Some of the stuff that we see on a daily basis, the generally public doesn’t see unless they are experiencing that incident themselves … so the mental toughness is probably just as high a degree of qualification as the physical toughness,” Helms added.

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