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New administration often means a new way of doing things. The Paris Fire Department is no exception. Since he started in November, Fire Chief Larry Wright has brought a new emphasis on training – namely, that more of it be done elsewhere.
“A lot of the training in the past has been done in house,” Wright said. “What I found when I got here was the firefighters hadn’t been exposed to other fire departments and how they do things. I wanted them to get out and see the world.”
For example, he has been encouraging firefighters to sign up for the United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. The program offers a wide range of training, including administration, finances, tactics and arson investigation. Three are leaving next week for the course.
“It’s a whole gamut of classes the guys can apply for,” he said.
The department sends firefighters to other schools, such as Collin County College and courses offered by Texas Engineering Extension Service. Firefighters have also gone to training for explosives handling and hazmat.
Only about half of what firefighters learn is from the classroom, Wright said. The other half is exposure to other fire departments and their procedures.
“They usually come back puffed up with new ideas,” he said. “It doesn’t mean these guys aren’t technically advanced, but there may be an easier way to do some things.”
Wright said when he first came to work in Paris, he got an email from the Wylie Fire Department saying a firefighting technique in use here was just being introduced to the Metroplex.
Another tactic in the quest to broaden the firefighters’ horizons is to bring in guest instructors from various departments across Texas, such as a chief scheduled to teach tactics in October.
“We’re trying to expand our horizons. We’re trying to get them to see there are other ways of doing things,” Wright said. “It may or may not be as good as we’re doing it, but at least they can see it.”
The Texas Commission on Fire Protection requires firefighters get at least 20 hours of training a year. Those registered in other disciplines – such as fire inspector, aircraft rescue, investigation or training – need at least two more hours in each area.
There are benefits to more training. Paris firefighters recently received training on a new tactic and were able to put it into practice for the first time this week.
Wright also plans to get more training for the dive team so they can expand their skills. All Paris firefighters are hazardous material technicians, he said, but he’s working to create a core group to get more in-depth hazmat training so they can handle anything from radiation to rail car spills.
“I emphasize training quite a bit,” he said. “If you don’t train and you get rusty in a skill, when it comes time to use it, you’re not at full peak.”
As the budget allows, Wright would also like to rebuild the training tower near the fairgrounds so it can be used for more training.
The department isn’t trying to break the bank for training, however. The National Fire Academy covers the cost of room and airfare; all the city has to pay is for food. There are some training schools that pay for everything.
“Paris Fire Department is kind of an island. We don’t have the capacity like the Metroplex to call in mutual aid or call in a specialized team,” Wright said. “They have to know every skill may may have to use because the closest city that has anything like what we have is Sherman or Denison.”
Those skills may well see action outside the city, as well. Paris plans to be a regional response agency to help in emergencies in a wider area.
As with most new efforts, Wright said the the response has been somewhat slow, but firefighters are warming to his approach. And, he said, it’s needed.
“Firemen respond to any kind of call. They call us all-hazards response,” he said. “The fire department has a duty to keep them trained. No. 1, it’s to keep them from getting hurt on a scene. No. 2, it’s to serve the public better.”
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra