Thursday, November 08, 2007

Six in Fire Division Receive Promotions

Six men with a total of 130 years’ experience in the Fire Division moved up a step Thursday as friends, colleagues and family members applauded their promotions.

Municipal Court was packed with well-wishers as Firefighters Robert Hughes, John J. Pellegrino and Pietro Martino received their lieutenant’s badges and Fire Lieutenants Michael J. McCue, David V. Locke and Charles S. Mills became fire captains.

“It was a hard nine months, but we made it,” said Fire Lieutenant Bernard Blake, who heads the Fire Officers Association.

The promotions had been held up for budgetary reasons, he said.

Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association No. 7 President Joseph Franklin congratulated the three firefighters who were leaving his union and bid them farewell.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs administered the oaths.

“We love to be able to promote folks,” the mayor said, but noted it was not always possible due to budget constraints.

The afternoon ceremonies were punctuated by a fire call crackling over radios and soon the wail of sirens was heard outside, pointing up the relentless call to duty the firefighters and their families live with.

Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig said the Fire Division was able to save almost $200,000 through a restructuring of battalion chiefs. There are four battalions in the Fire Division, but there were five battalion chiefs until one retired. Hellwig said instead of having one battalion chief assigned to administrative duty and four to fire suppression, now all four will handle administrative matters while they are on duty. He said the officers work for a full 24 hours, then have three days off.

“There will be no effect on fire suppression,” he said.

One battalion chief is already trained to do administrative work and Hellwig said he has directed Fire Chief Cecil Allen to have that person train the other three.

After the ceremonies, new Fire Captain Michael McCue talked about some of the changes he’s seen over 29 years in the Fire Division.

“Fires are getting hotter and hotter and hotter,” he said.

McCue said energy-efficient double-paned windows, which have a layer of air trapped inside, are increasing the chance of flash-over, a condition where heat build-up causes a room to burst into flame.

On the good side, he said, “People have more smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors."

In an older city like Plainfield, McCue said, there are still a lot of balloon frame buildings. This type of construction can allow a fire to race up walls and was not used after the 1950s.

Computers are “definitely a benefit,’ he said.

Along with modern reference books, they let firefighters formulate plans ahead of time for various fire responses. And, he said, “With experience, you know what type fire you are going in to.”

“What helps us, and helps citizens, are automatic sprinkler systems and devices that alert residents that there is a fire,” he said.

Over the years, he said, Plainfield’s experienced firefighters learn more and more about neighborhoods – whether homes are close together, for example – and on the way to a fire can anticipate strategies to battle the flames and save lives.

--Bernice Paglia


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