MAHWAH, NJ — When each call to a fire could result in injury or death, there is no such thing as a fire fighter being over-prepared. To that end, the Maplewood Fire Department held a training day for each of the four platoons comprising the department. Over the period of four days last week, each platoon assembled at the Bergen County Training Center, Mahwah, for a refresher course and live training on three of the multitude of skills they must master and stay alert to when on the job.

Deputy Chief Christopher Ariemma accompanied the Maplewood fire fighters all four days. Three of the four, he was in his gear doing active training. Fire Chief Michael Weber was also present for the training during TAPinto SOMA's visit. On Jan. 25, Mayor Frank McGehee went to the training to observe the training. 

The skills reviewed were flashover — what to do when fire goes up the wall and over the ceiling — creating roof ventilation, and entrapment. The Bergen Training Center, located in Mahwah, not only trains fire fighters, but also trains police and rescue squad first responders. 

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No fire is routine, the fire fighters were told — injury and death are always present. When you get to a fire, take a step back, and size up the scene before you go in. Treat every fire as if it’s the first one you’ve gone to, and use caution.

Some information the fire fighters received:

Signs of flashover are thick black smoke, free burning fire, and intense heat. Observers at a fire will give fire fighters clues regarding the conditions they will encounter: ask them how long it's been burning, how much smoke there is, and the color and consistency. Other factors are room size, number of rooms, heat release, insulation qualities, ceiling heights, and whether the building is residential or commercial. If the opportunity exists, put water in through a window.

As for gear, it is very important that they have their necks covered. Airborne chemicals released by a fire coming into contact with skin have caused cancer in first responders years later. It is important to keep your gear clean, partially for this reason. Maplewood has washers and dryers in both fire houses; almost all the fire fighters have two sets of gear, and all will shortly. 

For roof ventilation, a hole is cut to vent smoke and flames so that hot spots can be addressed. Also, each fire fighter carries an entrapment kit, should they need to bail out of a window; it includes a hook so that they can repel down the outside of a building.

The classes were run by Joseph Alvarez, a Maplewood Fire Department Captain; he trains fire fighters from all over New Jersey at the training center; Essex County does not have their own dedicated facility. Maplewood does have a small training facility behind headquarters on Dunnell Road where the fire fighters receive education, are able to practice and maintain their skills fighting fires and safety year round.