Following an outdoor graduation ceremony held at the Edgartown School Sunday, seven newly licensed firefighters will be protecting the Island community.
Despite some necessary alterations to the protocol for both instructors and students, Edgartown Fire Department Chief Alex Schaeffer said at the ceremony that Edgartown saw the highest student success rate among the three Island firefighting cohorts: up-Island, Tisbury, and Edgartown.
Before the pandemic, Vineyard fire departments were considering an Islandwide approach to training new recruits. But firefighters were forced to pivot and rethink how they approached educating and certifying their students. “Just like the rest of the world, we soon realized this wouldn’t be under the regular circumstances, and if we intended to put this class on, we would have to redefine the methods we use to get there,” Schaeffer said. “We stepped away from the Islandwide concept to promote the best chance of continuity of operations during COVID-19.”
He noted that student and instructor policies were adapted to meet the high level of caution, and technology was implemented so that students who felt uncomfortable attending in-person courses could attend remotely.
“It required many hours of preparation to not only overcome a worldwide event, but also to give the students the best opportunity for success,” Schaeffer added. “This course is an intense offering of highly technical information and skill — a significant undertaking in the best of circumstances, but this group did it with KN95 masks, six feet apart from each other, while adapting to strict COVID precautions.”
Firefighting instructors Steven Foster and Thomas Ignacio congratulated the class on their accomplishments, and acknowledged how challenging the coursework and active learning sessions are under normal circumstances, without having to deal with COVID restrictions.
Foster said the two introductory courses the students completed, Firefighting I and Firefighting II, serve as the essential building blocks that allow firefighters to provide the best service to their community.
The two instructors also thanked the family members, friends, and loved ones of the graduates for supporting the class through a challenging experience. “Your support has gotten these students to where they are today,” Foster said.
He asked firefighters to recognize that the skills they have acquired are lifelong, and the knowledge they’ve gleaned from the courses will help them not only in their own lives, but in the service and safeguarding of our Island.
Ignacio explained that the students had to attend 35 hours’ worth of lectures, participate in more than 75 hours of hands-on training, and study and train extensively on their own time in order to pass the Firefighting I and II courses.
In order for firefighters to pass the first course, they must understand wholly the basics of equipment use, safety, and essential communications. The second course gets into more advanced mechanics and training, such as firefighter theory, operations, strategies, and tactics. After learning about ladder use, hazmat use, and fire science, the graduates had to prove their grasp of the material by demonstrating their knowledge in live practical sessions using ladders, ropes, and search and rescue and mayday techniques.
“The students were very enthusiastic and patient — we couldn’t have asked any more of them,” Ignacio said.
Graduate Morgan Vincent said she is excited to utilize and improve upon her new knowledge when she is responding to fires and helping the community in other capacities.
She noted that despite some tough restrictions that complicated an already challenging learning process, both the instructors and students rose to that challenge at every opportunity.
This year, Vincent said, the fire department welcomed a number of women into the program, which she said is a “really great thing, and really important.”
“[The department] definitely welcomes us with open arms,” Vincent said. “I’m just excited to be a part of this wonderful fire family, and to be able to help the community and keep them safe.”