Firefighters complete training at NWTC

June 11, 2012

From “New Green Bay firefighters prepared to serve the public” — Jack Bourgeois could hardly contain his excitement as his son poured water on a burning Mercury Cougar, held a water hose to a flaming gas meter and rushed into a burning building.

“Since he was 2 years old, he said he was going to be a firefighter,” he said of his son, James Bourgeois, 24, of upper Michigan. James Bourgeois was joined by eight other recruits during their last day of nine-week training for the Green Bay Fire Department academy. “My son’s been waiting all his life for this.”

The proud father was one of about 35 loved ones who recently watched as the recruits showed off their skills near the three-story burn tower at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, 2740 W. Mason St., Green Bay.

The relatives and friends sat outside the tower for nearly two hours snapping photos and recording videos as the recruits completed rounds of exercises. A graduation ceremony held June 1 at the Brown County Central Library, 515 Pine St., also honored outstanding firefighters and citizens.

Jack Bourgeois said that as a boy, James played with a toy fire truck and began visiting the local fire department at age 4.

“I’m worried (about his safety), but I’m sure they’re well-trained,” he said.

James Bourgeois started his job last week at station No. 3, 885 Shawano Ave., on Green Bay’s west side.

During the academy, recruits “go through every possible scenario that they will see out on the streets,” Green Bay fire chief Robert Goplin said.

Firefighters entering the Green Bay academy must have more than 160 hours of training and be certified paramedics.

Recruits practiced rescuing a person from a burning building, put out a car fire and confronted a blazing gas meter. Crews sprayed water on the meter fire, which acted as a shield so they could get close enough to turn off the meter by hand, Goplin said.

Firefighter strategies center around teamwork, and it’s forbidden to enter a burning building alone.

“They operate together to minimize the risks that they face,” he said.

The department, which now has 169 firefighters assigned to respond to calls, recently has seen a large employee turnover due to retirements. City firefighters are eligible to retire at age 53, Goplin said.

“The challenge is, how do you transfer that experience?” he said. “Because once that experience is gone, it’s hard to get back.”

Goplin said nine recruits also graduated last year. It’s important veteran firefighters show the new firefighters the ropes, he added.

“You lose that institutional knowledge. You lose that knowledge of people who have been here for years and, in some cases, decades,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great class. I think they are a great group of people who are going to fit in very, very well with our organization.”

Shelly Loomis, 31, of Eau Claire was the lone female recruit. She previously worked as a muscle therapist, but said she was ready for a career change.

“Firefighting is very, very physical and very demanding. You go from zero to 110 percent in five minutes,” she said of responding to emergencies.

Green Bay fire division chief Ann Watzka said the academy focuses on getting recruits accustomed to Green Bay’s policies, procedures and equipment.

“We teach them how we do it here,” she said, adding firefighting tactics often differ by department.

During training, the recruits learned how to rescue residents, other firefighters and even themselves in the case of emergency. For example, during a building collapse, firefighters can become tangled in wires, and must learn how to cut through them to escape, she said.

If firefighters become trapped upstairs in a burning building, they are instructed to find the closest window and move as much of their bodies as possible out of that opening so rescuers can see them.

Watzka said she urged the new firefighters to value serving the public.

“As a firefighter, you really have an opportunity to impact someone’s life in a really positive way — and you have to remember that’s a huge responsibility.”


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