Thousands of firefighters each year meet a blazing fire up close at the Delaware State Fire School, learning how to approach and extinguish it without putting their own lives too much at risk.
On the school’s campus outside of Dover, initiates to firefighting first learn how to maneuver on tall ladders, deal with spills of hazardous chemicals or move safely around a smoke-engulfed building. There’s a classroom building here that could be mistaken for a high school, but the soot-stained building next door gives away the school’s purpose.
“Our claim to fame is the hands-on stuff,” said Jerry Brennan Jr., a senior instructor at the school. “Yeah, we’ll do the classroom work, but we’ll make sure you put your skills to use.”
Founded in 1964, the school is celebrating 50 years of existence in 2014 – five decades of offering increasingly specialized and professional training in battling fire.
Louis J. Amabili, the school’s first director, spoke Nov. 8 at an open house commemorating the anniversary, and recalled educating firefighters, at first, in basic skills: how to safely drive an ambulance, and how to extricate people from car wrecks.
As the school’s mission broadened and it acquired satellite campuses in Sussex and New Castle counties, Amabili said, it offered fire safety training to school custodians, nursing home employees and babysitters.
At the same time, it branched out to teach specialized courses for fighting fires in factories, and developed a deep curriculum for emergency medical technicians.
Amabili recalled a time when he put then-Gov. Mike Castle through the paces of a rigorous fire exercise as the governor toured the place.
“We scared the hell out of him,” he said. “But he did earn some bragging rights around the country!”
The school’s current director, Robert Newnam, said he’s set up more classes to be taught with a mix of online and on-campus lessons, following a nationwide trend making it more convenient for students to enroll.
The fire school, he said, doesn’t want to make it any more difficult for fire companies to recruit new cadets. Tuition, as well as budgeted state funding, pays for the school’s operations.
“The individual fire department has to do the attracting of the member,” Newnam said. But with some hybrid course options, he said, “they only have to come here for three days. That makes it easier.”
But there’s still no way around the most daunting training exercises the school offers: scrambling up tall ladders to reach a building’s upper floors, and strapping on an air supply tank to get through the “smokehouse.”
“You have to go down and crawl, climb up ladders, go into rafters,” Francis Passwaters, an instructor since 1976, said of the smoke training. “We teach them, you’ve gotta keep your hand on the wall the whole time.”
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.