Four new rookies on the truck floor at Great Falls Fire Rescue
Four new rookies are on the truck floor at Great Falls Fire Rescue this week.
Luke Barrett, Ryan Olson, Travis Cik and Brett Castillo were recognized in a firehouse ceremony Tuesday for completing GFFR’s six-week training academy.
They’re rookies at GFFR, but they aren’t new to emergency response.
Barrett was a smoke jumper in Missoula; Olson was a volunteer firefighter in Bozeman and worked for Great Falls Emergency Services and at the city-county 911 dispatch center; Cik worked for the Evergreen Fire Department in Kalispell; and Castillo was a volunteer firefighter in Spokane.
The four rookie spots opened up due to retirements, promotions and firefighters moving out of town.
None of the rookies are coming in as paramedics, so GFFR is still working to fill that need.
Despite previous experience, all new hires at GFFR must complete the training academy, said Capt. Nolan Eggen. It’s designed to ensure everyone at the department is on the same page for tactics and procedures. Eggen leads the training academy.
Barrett spent a decade as a wildland firefighter, but always wanted to be a structure firefighter.
In Montana, firefighter hopefuls go through the Montana Firefighter Testing Consortium to apply for open jobs around the state.
For Barrett, Great Falls “was a good fit for me.”
Olson had been working for dispatch and GFES and since his wife is from Great Falls, he wanted to stay in the area. Since he was already a city employee at dispatch, it was a lateral transfer across departments.
The rookies have varying levels of experience, but for Barrett, “it’s all brand new to me.”
The work at GFFR is completely different from smoke jumping, he said.
Cik said at past departments he received basic training, but at GFFR it’s focused on training before getting out on the truck floor.
The training is tough and for this rookie group, the weather has varied wildly for outdoor training days.
But the group has come together as a team and had fun while doing it, they said.
Now, they’ll get their truck assignments and start riding on shift with the full-time firefighters for the remainder of their 9-month probationary period.
The training academy covers strategy and tactics and the rookies complete their Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications during the program.
The six-week program includes hose work, GFFR specific tactics, hazmat, live fire training, vehicle extrication, EMS basics and more.
For river rescue training, it was cold, windy, overcast and snowing.
But it wasn’t so bad in the suits, Olson said. The suits are specifically designed for water and ice rescues.
Each of the rookies had a chance to be in the water, as the person being rescued, or the rescuer. They also learned to drive GFFR’s rescue boat.
Cik had done ice rescues in the past and served on the swift water team at his last department.
Eggen said they use the boat whenever possible in training. When the river ices over, they train on ice rescue.
The training is important, Olson said, especially when it comes to keeping a victim calm so they don’t take the firefighters down with them.
They also take turns rescuing and being rescued in burning buildings, though they don’t use live fire for those exercises.
At GFFR, all rookies train on the Pittsburgh Drill, which was developed after three Pittsburgh firefighters were killed in a 1995 house fire.
The drill involves bringing additional air supply to trapped firefighters until they can be evacuated from the burning structure.
They conduct the drill at the GFFR training center with smoke machines to get new recruits comfortable using their gear, breathing apparatus and responding to maydays, Eggen said.
“It’s very, very important that they do it now before getting on the truck floor.”
Cik said the training helps develop a comfort level with that scenario, should it ever happen, because “it is a stressful situation and also an emotional situation.”
In one scenario for mayday training, a rookie was wrapped in bailing twine nailed to the floor to simulate a ceiling coming down and being trapped in and under the debris. The scenario is done with the smoke machines in the structure at the training center, not live fire.
They do multiple iterations of the exercise, which increases their confidence levels, Barrett said.
During live burn training on April 9, other GFFR firefighters were at the training center to assist and serve as the Rapid Intervention Team should anything go wrong inside the structure.
The firefighters burn pallets in a shipping container that was added onto the side of the structure and the rookies practice clearing buildings, fire attack, rescue and other necessary skills.
“This is kind of the capstone,” Eggen said.
It was the first time to work with live fire during the rookie academy and Cik said he’d never trained in a structure like the one at the training center.
“It’s nice to apply some of the tactics that we’ve learned,” he said. “This is probably as close as we can get.” without being on a working structure call.
Cik was a paid firefighter at the Evergreen FD, which was a combination of professional and volunteer firefighters, and last year that department responded to 31 structure calls, he said.
Each department operated differently, though the basics are similar, and each officer has their own style, Cik said.
“It’s a dynamic setting,” he said. “The more we do it, the more comfortable we are with it.”
The rookies got their number decals for their helmets during the ceremony on April 17 and were recognized for successfully completing the training academy.
Barrett was assigned to D Shift with Eggen and pulled his first shift on the truck floor on April 16.
The rookies are getting used to the shift rhythm and getting comfortable with their new teams.
Cik pulled his first shift April 19 with C Shift.
“I’m ready to go, I’m excited,” he said. “It’s definitely been building up to this.”