Firefighter training through basketball

Groton and McLean firefighters play basketball in full gear on Sept. 25 as they train for being more comfortable wearing and using their SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus).
Groton and McLean firefighters play basketball in full gear on Sept. 25 as they train for being more comfortable wearing and using their SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus).
Photo by Linda Competillo

When tragedy strikes and a situation suddenly turns into an emergency, most people know to call 9-1-1 as a first response to initiate getting the help needed to mitigate whatever that emergency situation is at the time. It might be an automobile accident, an individual in crisis, some sort of crime in progress or, perhaps, something on fire.

The Groton Fire Department most assuredly has its share of emergencies to respond to, and fires don’t ever get scheduled or marked on anyone’s calendar, yet the 20 to 25 active firefighters, who are all volunteers, make themselves ever- ready and available whenever they are called into service 24/7.

Altogether, the Groton FD and Ambulance has 65 members “on the books.” In addition to the active firefighters, there are administrative personnel, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and ambulance drivers who make up the team.

In the case of fires, what many people may not take the time to think about is the training required for firefighters to be prepared to deal with whatever those burning buildings might entail.

Like many different careers in life, there is intense and robust training involved for an individual to become a firefighter, but it does not end there. According to the Groton FD’s chief, Ben Nelson, he and his crew are required to participate in ongoing trainings at least four or five times per year.

Having lived in Groton since he was 10 years old in 1994, with a four-year absence when he served as a machinist in the United States Navy from 2004 to 2008, Nelson has been a member of the Groton FD for nine and a half years and has been its chief since April 2018.

Nelson said that quite a bit of the training exercises they go through involve “a lot of crawling around and other tough stuff.” But on Wednesday, Sept. 25, a group of Groton firefighters made their way to the basketball court at the Groton Memorial Park on Sykes Street to participate in a basketball game that doubled as a training exercise because they played it in full gear!

Running around playing basketball in the heavy coats, boots, helmets, gloves and other firefighting paraphernalia would be a challenge in and of itself, but this particular training was specific to also wearing SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus) over their faces, which also entails carrying an air tank on their backs.

Nelson said the department had engaged in this SCBA training via a basketball game about five years ago, so he decided it was time to bring it back.

“The more you wear them, the more comfort you have when you have to wear them in an emergency situation,” he said.

In order to “make things more interesting,” Nelson decided to call Kenny Carr, the fire chief for Groton’s neighboring fire department in McLean, and challenge the McLean FD to come down and play as the opposing team and thereby get a training covered for their firefighters at the same time.

McLean rose to the challenge. In addition to Chief Carr, Calvin Carr, Nate Forehand, Lee Webster and Kaeleb Welch made up McLean’s team.

Groton had a showing that represented two teams with 2nd Assistant Chief Eric DeForrest, Josh Barron, Rob Gallinger, Allen Gallow, Bob Hunt, Jacob Howell, Rick Neville Jr. and Tom Stelick joining Chief Nelson.

Tim Faro, a salesman for Emergency Municipal Services, also joined in to play. Faro came down from his home in Arcadia, New York. He sells emergency equipment to both departments because he covers eight counties but said he really wanted to join in the fun because he never gets to actually use the things he sells.

Lee Shurtleff, a member of the GFD himself since 1985 and former director of the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response, was on hand to refill the air bottles as needed throughout the game.

“This was a good way to practice teamwork and gain valuable training for emergency situations that require us to use our SCBA air packs,” said DeForrest, who is a Groton native for the past 37 years, after the game.
Carr said it was “good fun and a great way to enjoy team-building and confidence building.”

The McLean FD has recently added a brand-new truck bay to its firehouse and will host a ribbon cutting at the fire department on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. The public and the press are invited to help them celebrate.

Who won the basketball game? They played two games, and I honestly forgot to ask if they were keeping score, but Nelson said he wanted to make it a competition because he believes the healthy challenge brings out the best in people, builds their team spirit and gets them to be more comfortable with the SCBAs to be ready for the real emergencies.

“We’re not a big department, but we answer the call when it happens, and this is one way to be prepared for it,” Nelson said.

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, or 607-227-4922.

In Brief:

McLean bazaar

In addition to the McLean Fire Department ribbon-cutting ceremony mentioned in the article on firefighter training, the McLean Fire Station will host a community bazaar from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5.
The Fireman’s Auxiliary will have coffee and donuts in the morning and lunch starting at 11 a.m. with cheddar broccoli soup, chili, hot turkey sandwiches and pie by the slice available for purchase.

The McLean Community Church will have a bake sale on site, as well as crafters and vendors, information booths such as the McLean Beautification Committee, FoodNet, Tompkins County Office for the Aging, Tompkins Community Action, Kountry Kitchen Baked Goods, Rada Cutlery and more.

There will also be a “Kid’s Corner” with games, pumpkin painting, coloring contest and more, and some members of the FD demonstrating woodworking and painting with some hands-on opportunities available.

Library History

The walls of the Groton Public Library tell the story of its history. In 2017, the GPL celebrated 100 years in its classic building and its benefactor, Dr. Miles Dennison Goodyear. That history has been preserved in a series of framed vignettes of the people from the past and artists whose work is displayed.

Goodyear bequeathed funds to build the library in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Weaver Goodyear, and the project was seen through to its completion by the doctor’s widow, Cora Goodyear.

Library patrons may read the framed biographies of these people, as well as the artist who created the bas-relief sculptures and the sculptor, Dr. Victor Colby.

Friends of the GPL, with donations from the community, preserved the original library charters and had the descriptions of the historical work prepared by Rose Tucker and Cathy Klimaszewski framed by Ariel Bullion Ecklund of Corners Gallery.

Stop by the library for a vast array of programs and services, and while you are there, read the history on the walls and appreciate the beauty of our century-old architectural gem.

Groton School important dates

Groton Central School will hold a “Go Home Early Drill” on Friday, Oct. 11. A 15-minute early dismissal will take place for both school buildings. There is no school on Monday, Oct. 14 or on Friday, Oct. 25.


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