Town seeking volunteers for fire department

By Gregory A. Scibelli - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Sun., Aug. 7, 2011
Lt. Kevin Seger checks a hose on a fire engine. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.
Lt. Kevin Seger checks a hose on a fire engine. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.

The Suffield Fire Department is now actively seeking volunteers to join its department and be part of a tradition that has some volunteers and even full-time firefighters looking back three and four generations to their roots in the department. Fire Chief Thomas Bellmore said the department is looking for young and able-bodied individuals, as the department’s number of volunteers has dipped in recent years.

Suffield First Selectman Tom Frenaye said he recognized the change in the climate of many small towns as the driving force behind the lower numbers of volunteers. “It’s not like it was a long time ago when most of the town was simply farmland,” said Frenaye. “Back then, people worked close to their home or they worked locally. That meant, if there was a call to the fire department, they were able to get there quickly from wherever they were working.” Frenaye said many residents now work out of town and are unable to be available during the day to respond.

Bellmore also recognized the modernized change in requirements for being a firefighter that has scared some potential volunteers away.

“Right now, just to become a firefighter, you need to complete 140 hours of training at the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks,” said Bellmore. “It takes a real commitment to do that. Once the training is over, we require 30 hours [additional training] per year.”

Most of that training does occur in-house, Bellmore said. Drill nights are often held on Mondays for firefighters to come and sharpen their skills doing various simulated exercises or simply receiving education on a new advance in technology, or maybe a new regulation.

Bellmore said while the Suffield Fire Department has grown through leaps and bounds and currently has seven full-time employees, the volunteer core is still the backbone of the department. “When we get a call, we still need about five volunteers for every one full-timer we have going out on the truck,” Bellmore said. “That makes those volunteers very important to us.”

The day-to-day commitment has not changed much. After becoming a firefighter through the initial training, volunteers possess radios and are asked to respond to calls as much as possible. Currently, the fire department receives approximately 350 to 450 calls per year.

Many of the calls are very minor, and major fires have been kept to a minimum in recent years.

“You could probably count the major house or structural fires we have had in the last several years on one hand,” said Bellmore. “But that does not make being prepared and having enough volunteers any less important.”

The department is also entrenched in the community, holding the yearly Firemen’s Carnival to raise money for Little League sponsorship and scholarships, and holding fire prevention education for local students in schools.

“It can really be a family thing,” said Lt. Kevin Seger, who began as a volunteer.  “You can start at 14 years old as an Explorer and do everything except go into a fire. I’m a third generation firefighter, and I still love to do it. It’s a great thing to do for your community.”

Seger said the job changes constantly, and they are doing something different every day. Another full-timer, Lt. John Golec, is a fourth-generation firefighter.

Applicants interested in being on the Suffield Fire Department can apply at the SFD, or on the town’s website, www.suffieldtownhall.com. An applicant is then approved by the Fire Commission and can begin training in Windsor Locks.


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