STONINGTON — Mother’s Day weekend marked the unofficial start to the cookout season and with summer just a few weeks away, local fire volunteers are shifting gears to make sure they are ready for any response.
From boating safety and marine emergency response to accident extrication, volunteers have been training the last few months for whatever summer may bring. With a considerable uptick in the number of seasonal residents, as well as an influx in tourists during the summer months, fire chiefs in Pawcatuck and Old Mystic said their agencies are prepared for an increase in the number of service of calls.
“There’s definitely a greater need in the summer, but we are prepared to handle it,” Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns said. “Over the course of the year, we schedule training ahead of the peak time for calls. It’s a balance.”
Burns and Assistant Fire Chief Byron Stillman said that by focusing on the most common response needs ahead of time, it not only assures a proper number of staff are trained, but that the response protocols are fresh in the minds of first responders.
Over the course of the past several months, the two said the department’s volunteers have focused most directly on seasonal response to incidents such as grill fires and burns, have undergone boat training, and have reviewed response to a wide range of accidents, including automotive and marine.
Stillman said the region has already seen an uptick in the number of reported crashes, and call volume will only increase further in the coming weeks.
In Old Mystic, Fire Chief Kenneth Richards Jr. said his volunteers have been conducting similar training. Drivers were recently certified and re-certified on use of the department apparatus, and this weekend the agency was conducting joint training with the East Lyme Fire Marshal’s Office. The training, “Paratech University,” conducted by Spec Rescue International.
“The course will review lifting, moving and stabilizing vehicles and heavy objects such as large sections of concrete,” Richards said in a post shared on the Old Mystic Fire Department’s Facebook page. “These heavy vehicles and the equipment they carry through our district every day and night, and our mission is to ensure we are equipped and trained to mitigate any emergency they may be involved in.”
Both departments, and others in town, are also working to ensure that there is adequate personnel to provide proper response while also allowing members to take their summer vacations. Burns said the department is fortunate to have the benefit of services from several college students, which helps to cover shifts when people are away.
All of the town’s fire departments, from Mystic to Pawcatuck have also been increasing their social media presence and promoting safe summer practices. Stillman said the goal is to prevent tragedies and assure that everyone can enjoy the seasonal fun.
Stillman encouraged residents to make safety a priority with all activities, whether it's making sure boats are registered, marked, and equipped with the proper life preservers, or checking backyards to make sure grills are 10 feet from homes and other structures and cleaned and protected to prevent hot grease from dripping onto propane tanks.
Perhaps the most important message, however, is that drivers pay attention and make a concentrated effort to slow down, signal properly and pull over — both when emergency vehicles are in transit and when passing the scene of an emergency response.
Stillman said both police and fire officials have experienced a growing number of delays and near accidents in recent years as a result of failure to comply with state laws requiring vehicles to move over.
“If there’s one message I wish people would take, it’s that we need them to increase their efforts to get over. We need compliance to keep everyone safe.”