Thanks to a large federal grant, the entire Wakefield Fire Department has spent the last several days training to use aerial ladders.
The grant, worth $100,000, was awarded jointly to the Wakefield and Reading Fire Department from the Department of Homeland Security. It pays for three different training modules for the Wakefield, Reading, Melrose and Wilmington Fire Departments to learn the ins and outs and controls of the large high-powered ladders on fire engines.
"We've had a lot of turnover in the last five years, so there are a fair number of guys on the force now that haven't had this training," said Captain Paul Pronco, who was supervising as his entire on-duty shift worked on the active drills.
Firefighters had to use the ladder to drop a small-sized bucket into a larger trash can on the roof of a building and on the ground level.
"It's a lot harder than it looks," said Pronco.
Michael Wilbur, a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department, ran the eight day course for the four fire departments behind the Market Basket on Walker's Brook Drive in Reading.
"The point is to become familliar with the controls and get experience with hydraulic ladders," he said. "We go over things like line of sight, hand/eye coodination and depth perception."
Wilbur said firefighters without experience in controlling the ladder can do some serious damage, to builidngs, or to the ladder itself.
"You can't put someone up there in a million dollar ladder who doesn't know what he's doing," he said. "They've got to learn to feather the controls."
This particular grant, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, is just one of several grants the Wakefield Fire Department has been awarded in the last few years. Wakefield also has a SAFER grant, which pays for four new firefighters on a sliding scale over five eyars, and a nozzle grant worth $20,000.