Select board chair walks a mile in their boots during fire department ridealong

Jun 24, 2024

MIDDLEBORO — Select Board Chair Mark Germain always knew that firefighters carry a heavy weight of responsibility as they battle blazes, provide medical care to injured residents and respond to varied emergency calls in the course of a shift.

When he rode along with a team of Middleboro firefighters recently, he learned that they carry a literal weight as well.

A call for a potential fire requires firefighters to wear 80 to 100 pounds of gear, Germain said, which protects them from the flames. “That’s a lot of weight,’’ Germain said.

The protective quality can save lives but also keeps them so covered that the gear doesn’t breathe. “There’s nowhere to sweat off the heat. I never put that into perspective until I put that gear on.’’

His experience underscored why the department has applied for a grant to fund lighter gear that can be worn to auto accidents and wildlands fires. This would provide less thermal protection while still keeping wearers safe from cuts and abrasions.

This grant would also save the town money, Fire Chief Owen Thompson said, because the heavier gear can be more than twice as expensive.

Germain said he “100 percent’’ supports this grant.

Riding alongside first responders gave Germain a “different perspective’’ that adds insight to issues that might come in front of the select board.

“You don’t know what they do until you walk a mile in their shoes, and to be honest, I didn’t get very far.’’

Germain has driven along with police officers, but recently accompanied the fire department for the first time. He went along to all the calls and activity of a full shift.

On that shift, he responded to a resident who had fallen and needed assistance getting back in bed and to a person experiencing a medical incident.

The department also received a call for a fire. When they responded, firefighters realized that, fortunately, there was no actual blaze. But they had to prepare as if the fire was real, donning the heavy gear required to enter blazing structures.

Having to prepare so quickly yet thoroughly was “an eye-opening experience,’’ Germain said.

The crew spent part of the shift taking extrication tools to donated damaged cars to practice their life-saving skills. Middleboro Recycling offered junked cars to train on since “we can’t buy vehicles to cut them up,’’ Firefighter Ryan Herrick said.

Some sort of training takes place nearly every day, Firefighter Thomas Melucci said.

“We’re in a constant cycle of training,’’ he noted. “We always feel we don’t have enough training.’’

The skills they develop and strengthen include ladder placement, dealing with hazardous materials and handling technical rescues.

“Every shift, we are always working on something,’’ Melucci said.

Germain rode along with one shift, but no two shifts are identical, the firefighters said.

“There’s a misconception that firefighters just go to fires,’’ Melucii said. “We get called to a lot of emergencies. We’re called a fire department, but a modern fire department could really be called an all-hazards department.’’

“We’re much more than a Dalmatian and a hose,’’ he said, referring to vintage images of a basic fire truck and the spotted-dog mascot.

Germain was grateful for the experience and impressed with the teamwork among all department members and how well the police and fire departments work together.

“They worked as a team toward a common goal,’’ he said: Providing the best possible service to the public.