Six area fire departments train members on Officer 1 course

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ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The fire departments of Belleville, Bloomfield, East Orange, Nutley, Orange and West Orange are currently enrolled in the 40-hour Officer 1 course at Bloomfield High School; 100 firefighters are taking part in the training, which runs from Feb. 22 to March 19.

The course is being taught by instructors from the Morris County Public Safety Academy. When members have completed the course, they will have learned valuable knowledge and skills that will allow them to be better equipped to manage fire crews, according to a press release. 

“We are fortunate to have such outstanding first responders that are willing to put themselves in danger to keep our community safe,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said in the press release. “This additional training for our firefighters will serve to make them more well-rounded at their jobs and better prepare them for leadership positions in the future.”

The course is designed around both group lectures and hands-on group exercises. The skills acquired include how to develop an incident action plan, personnel management, mentoring and community relations. This Officer 1 course follows the National Fire Protection Association standard qualification for professional fire officers. 

“The Fire Officer 1 training has been offered to members of the East Orange Fire Division to train them to the national standard for fire officer professional qualifications. The firefighters will delve into what good leadership and mentorship looks like and how to apply those skills to enhance our entire team,” East Orange Fire Chief Andre Williams said on March 15. “Once complete, the firefighters will better understand the roles and responsibilities of company officers, including incident safety, clear and concise communication, and thorough data collection. Good data collection positively impacts the community by providing critical information that can reduce fire-related deaths, injuries and property losses from preventable fires. A knowledgeable firefighter is a safe firefighter, and a safe firefighter can efficiently perform their tasks to produce positive outcomes for our citizens.”

The training for all six departments has been paid for through a $600,000 grant from the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. This funding, which was announced in September 2020, included a regional award for the training of 100 fire officers to obtain Fire Officer 1 certification and for another 100 firefighters to receive rapid intervention training; rapid intervention teams specialize in the rescue and removal of trapped or downed firefighters. Bloomfield received an additional grant to implement a Wellness & Fitness program and purchase equipment for cleaning toxic substances from their protective gear.

“Our firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders have been on the front lines of the pandemic, responding to emergencies, and have taken on considerable risk to their own lives to help others,” U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who represents the 11th Congressional District, said when the grant was announced. “We owe it to these brave men and women to give them the best possible training and equipment they need to do their jobs and return home safely. I am hoping to see even more towns apply for the AFG program, and my office will continue with our outreach efforts to assist our communities and bring federal dollars back to New Jersey.”

AFG is one of three FEMA grant programs that focus on enhancing the safety of the public and firefighters. This regional grant for Belleville, Bloomfield, East Orange, Nutley, Orange and West Orange was the second largest AFG grant awarded in the state of New Jersey in 2020.

“Our department is always looking for ways to offer the highest-quality training for our members so that they can become better firefighters and better leaders,” Bloomfield Fire Chief Lou Venezia said in a press release. “The FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant allows our department, in addition to departments across the county, to do this at no cost to taxpayers.”

According to the West Orange Fire Department, this training benefits both the firefighters and the community, as the firefighters learn new skills and gain new certification, and the community can sleep more soundly knowing that local firefighters are up-to-date on the latest training.

“The West Orange Fire Department is pleased to be a part of the Fire Officer 1 training taking place at Bloomfield High School,” West Orange Fire Chief Anthony Vecchio said on March 12. “This specialized training has been something for which we have long awaited. Personnel costs have always made it a challenge to carve out enough time to implement this type of a program, but, with the help of FEMA, our soon-to-be and current fire officers are learning strategies to enhance their performance and sharpen their leadership skills on the fireground as well as in the firehouse.” 

For Belleville, this training is especially timely, as the fire department is seeing turnover as new officers join the ranks and others begin to retire.

“The regional fire officer training grant has provided a great opportunity for the Belleville Fire Department and could not have come at a better time,” Belleville Fire Chief John Olivieri said on March 12. “We have enrolled 13 new and future officers in the program. In 2021 we are anticipating the retirement of up to 10 fire officers, which will cause a great influx of new officers in our department. This supplemental training will prepare our incoming officers to keep our members safe and allow them to better serve and protect the citizens of Belleville.”

Photos Courtesy of Grant Ludmer and Connie Jackson