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Area small-town firefighters gain hands-on training to help 'save more lives'

“It’s not only teaching firefighters to learn how to be more efficient, it’s supporting our brothers. This is a brotherhood. Any small department that wants us to come, we do whatever we can to make it happen," said Greg Zimmerman, a veteran firefighter and member of the Pheasant Country FOOLS organization, who helped lead Saturday's training event in Woonsocket.

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Greg Zimmerman, a veteran firefighter and member of the FOOLS organization, shows a group of firefighters various ways to stretch a hose line on Saturday in Woonsocket during the "When Seconds Matter" fire training event. Zimmerman and Rocky Foster, a Sioux Falls firefighter and FOOLS member, instructed a group of 17 firefighters from six different area departments on ways to be more efficient when responding to fires. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Area firefighters converged in Woonsocket over the weekend to gain some valuable lessons from career firefighters on ways to respond to blazes more efficiently that could help save more lives.

For Rick George, training officer with the Woonsocket Volunteer Fire Department, Saturday’s fire responding training dubbed "When Seconds Matter" will have a profound impact on the future success of the 31-member volunteer fire department.

“What our focus is today is to make departments more efficient fighting fires,” George said. “From the time the truck arrives on scene to the time the fire is out is what our training is all about.”

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Rick George, a Woonsocket firefighter and training officer, practices spraying water from the hose line on Saturday in Woonsocket during the "When Seconds Matter" fire training event. A pair of veteran of firefighters from the FOOLS firefighters organization instructed a group of 17 firefighters from six area departments on ways to be more efficient when responding to fires. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

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The weekend training exercises were led by a pair of career firefighters who are a part of South Dakota’s Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society (FOOLS) chapter. FOOLS is a national organization made up of firefighters that was formed by a group of Florida firefighters in 1995. Today, there are over 7,000 chapters across the country.

Greg Zimmerman, a member of the Pheasant Country FOOLS and firefighter with the Wentworth Fire and Rescue, said South Dakota’s Pheasant Country FOOLS is all about “building the camaraderie and brotherhood” that’s forged between firefighters.

On Saturday, Zimmerman and fellow FOOLS firefighter, Rocky Foster, led the group of 17 firefighters from around the area in a wide variety of training exercises all in the name of helping fire departments in the state improve their first responding practices.

“It’s not only teaching firefighters to learn how to be more efficient, it’s supporting our brothers. This is a brotherhood,” Zimmerman said. “Any small department that wants us to come, we do whatever we can to make it happen.”

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Greg Zimmerman, a veteran firefighter and member of the FOOLS organization, talks to a group area firefighters on Saturday in Woonsocket during the "When Seconds Matter" fire training event. Zimmerman and Rocky Foster, a Sioux Falls firefighter and FOOLS member, instructed a group of 17 firefighters from six small-town area departments on ways to be more efficient when responding to fires. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

From hose line stretching exercises to advancing through a tight, narrow space, the group took part in a wide variety of training on Saturday that they can put into action when duty calls. Fire and Iron Station 49 is the group that funded the training exercise.

In between hose line exercises and structure fire simulation drills, Foster provided the group with a wealth of practical knowledge on ways to battle blazes more efficiently, which he said can save the lives of people trapped in a structure that’s on fire and fellow firefighters.

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Foster, who has battled a wide gamut of house fires during his time as a Sioux Falls firefighter, explained several methods to approach balloon-frame house fires, which he said can be some of the “most challenging” structure fires to contain and control. Balloon-frame homes were popular designs that builders used to construct houses in the early to mid-1900s, and the larger number of windows the homes typically have allows for more oxygen to feed fires.

Considering balloon-framed houses typically have more windows placed in parts of the home where stairs are located for lighting since less lights were used back then, Foster said it’s vital to be flowing water on windows that are a blaze, which are also known as the “flow-paths.”

“Numerous firefighters have been injured in situations like this because it’s hot and smoky, and the fire needs that one extra thing, which is oxygen. And if you all the sudden have a window that fails If you’re not ready to flow water right now, you are going to get hurt,” Foster said, noting there have been a lot of firefighters killed in flow-paths on balloon-framed homes. “Pay attention to where the stairs and windows are. When you’re doing your size up and see windows at the half landings, that usually means there are stairs there because they didn’t have as many lights back in the early 1900s.”

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Rocky Foster, a Sioux Falls firefighter and FOOLS member, provides tips on ways to control fires on Saturday in Woonsocket during the "When Seconds Matter" fire training event. Foster was one of the firefighters who instructed a group of 17 firefighters from six small-town area departments during the training event. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

When responding to a structure fire, Foster said it’s important to listen for the sound of smoke detectors upon arriving at the scene. If smoke detectors are not ringing, Foster told the group to “always assume the people in the home are sleeping through the fire.”

“Of all the fatality fires I’ve been to, only one of those had working smoke detectors,” Foster said, noting many of the detectors that weren't working during fires typically had dead batteries.

While George and his Woonsocket firefighters can partake in annual fire school training that’s offered around the state, he said the volume of large fire departments that attend can be intimidating for smaller volunteer fire departments. By having experienced veteran firefighters from some of the state’s largest departments come to the small town of Woonsocket to lead area volunteer firefighters in training, George said it eliminated that intimidation factor.

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“It gives these guys a chance to expand their knowledge without feeling intimidated. Some of these smaller fire departments have a tough time going to state fire school and being around big departments, so we’re trying to change that by bringing training here,” George said.

With the first FOOLS-led training day in the books, George deemed it a “huge success" and hopes to make it a regular event.

As a leader of the Woonsocket Town and Country Fire and Rescue, George said the training that some of his firefighters went through on Saturday will help "save more lives."

“The people who call us in a time of emergency, they expect the same results as they would get in Sioux Falls at a larger department. It’s up to us to have that knowledge and training to deliver on that,” George said. “That’s what today is all about.”

Related Topics: FIRESWOONSOCKETSOUTH DAKOTA
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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