New firefighters on board at Merrimack fire and rescue department

Artificial smoke billowing from a fog machine in an empty town-owned building wrapped in below-zero temperatures initiated a rigorous series of training exercises for the newest of four probationary firefighters now on board at the Merrimack Fire and Rescue Department.

Newcomer Tyler Gaudette was formerly active with the Franconia and Lebanon Fire departments. Donald Cole was previously a full-time employee with the Hollis Fire Department. Nathan Landry was a member of fire companies in Littleton and Meredith. Each will train in Merrimack as a probationary firefighter for six months to a year.

They join another PFF already in service. Lenwood Brown, of Amherst, began working with the Merrimack Fire and Rescue Department in September. Each of the four sports an orange shield on his helmet. The identifier helps associates to know that the wearer is a new member of the team and one that might warrant encouragement or further instruction on various duties.

The three newest members, fully credentialed with certified firefighter II status, have replaced three recently retired professionals – Mark Akerstrom, David Joki and Bruce Cornelius – men with an accumulated tenure of service totalling some 82 years.

Assistant Chief Brian Borneman said during a training drill on Jan. 8, all four men have solid expertise in all phases of firefighting. Each has earned the designation of EMTI, signifying emergency medical technician intravenous, a credential that indicates proven skills at introducing intravenous lines and accessing patients needing intravenous fluids during emergency treatments at fire scenes or elsewhere and during the patients’ transport for further care at local hospitals.

Borneman, along with Assistant Chief Rich Pierson, Lt. Matt Duke and other personnel conducted the training session, one of the first of many designed to familiarize the probationary firefighters with the department’s equipment, techniques and personnel. An empty town-owned building near Baboosic Lake Road served as a setting in which the men displayed their skills.

They suited up in protective fire gear, including respirators and face masks. Instructions from their superiors followed. A machine generating artificial smoke pumped a nearly opaque mist throughout the ranch-style structure, one with an ice encrusted roof and a basement without electric lighting. The signal was given to commence the drill. Borneman, Pierson and Duke noted the time the exercise began.

“Today is all skill work,” Borneman said. “They’ve come trained, so they are all ready to go on shift here. We’re making sure they’re all on the same page.”

The trio dragged from a fire truck an unwieldy fire hose that burped some trapped water from its nozzle. The men, preceded by Borneman, Pierson and Duke, headed down a flight of steps to the dark, dank basement. The new guys adjusted their grip to accommodate the hose’s bulk as they reached the lower level and maneuvered it around corners. Brown also completed a range of assignments.

Other skills, various search-and-rescue techniques, then were requested of the four. Later, some climbed ladders to the building’s slippery roof and used metal probes to gingerly test for places that in a genuine fire situation might be hot spots capable of causing the roof to collapse beneath them.

Earlier orientations included meetings in which they were welcomed by Fire Chief Mike Currier, Assistant chiefs Borneman and Pierson, along with fellow firefighters, local police and EMTs. The three newcomers were measured and fitted for uniforms. They were issued their firefighting gear and equipment. Meetings with staffers in the town’s Human Resources Department dispatched the mandatory paperwork.

Another stop on the training itinerary was a visit to area hospitals. The Merrimack Fire Department transports victims of fires, accidents and medical emergencies to four local hospitals – St. Joseph’s Hospital and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, both in Nashua, and Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center, both in Manchester. Each of the hospitals was toured by the men, who quickly learned the locations of entry doors, intake desks, emergency rooms, nursing stations and other portions of the buildings.

Borneman gave the men ample credit for their accomplishments in the building that so quickly filled with the clouds of artificial smoke, a vapor so dense it was impossible to see more than a few feet down any hallway. Borneman said the three men who recently retired will not be easily replaced but that the Fire and Rescue Department is one whose motion is constantly forward.

“The fire service keeps constantly moving forward,” Borneman said. “It’s always good to bring in new members. These new members are eager to get started. They all probably think they’ve made it, because they’re here full time, but they have a long time to go.”

He and Pierson eventually gave the go-ahead to cease training for the day. Pierson also was pleased. He said the men in the orange shields showed a range of skills that was solid and a willingness to continue learning.

“When you’re at a fire, you have to have confidence in those behind you,” Pierson said. “We go from calls for frozen pipes to motor vehicle accidents to medical calls.”

Borneman concurred and said there are always new things to master in a department that is constantly in a state of change. New technologies, new methods, improvements in search and rescue equipment, advances in medical treatments and other innovations make the years before retirement ones that he said pass at high speed.

“As soon as you think you’ve learned everything, it’s time to leave,” Borneman said.

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