firefighter training

Many people have asked me about my position as the fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and have asked questions about what the Southern League is. I would like to use this article to educate the public on the efforts of this dedicated group. 

The Rhode Island Southern Firefighter’s League was originally incorporated as the Southern Fire League on May 14, 1954, and consisted of the volunteer fire departments in the towns of Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, and Westerly. The league’s initial purpose was for mutual aid and radio communications.

The league was reorganized in August of 2000 and incorporated as the Rhode Island Southern Firemen’s League. Its purpose was increased to include the joint purchasing of accident and sickness insurance, regional training, joint purchasing of equipment, sharing of a dispatch center, and the sharing of knowledge, along with continuing our mission of mutual aid and radio communications.

The league once again changed its name in February of 2018 to be inclusive of all of our members and became the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League.

The various organizations that make up the league cover approximately 336 square miles, which is about a third of the state’s land area. This entire area is covered and protected primarily by more than 1,000 volunteer fire and EMS personnel supplemented by few paid personnel, except for the Town of Narragansett which is the only full-time paid department in the league. These dedicated volunteers sacrifice thousands of hours of their valuable time training and responding to calls for service, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.

In 2019, our member agencies responded to more than 20,000 emergency calls and contributed more than 35,000 volunteer hours for incidents, training and service.

The league also supports the Hope Valley Regional Hazardous Materials/WMD Team, the Kingston Regional Hazardous Materials Decontamination Team, and the Westerly Regional Trench Rescue Team.

The league has expanded through the past 65 years and now consists of 22 fire districts, fire departments, ambulance services, emergency management agencies and dispatch centers. These member organizations include the Ashaway, Block Island, Charlestown, Dunn’s Corners, Exeter #1, Exeter #2, Hianloland, Hope Valley Wyoming, Kingston, Lake Mishnock, Misquamicut, Narragansett, Richmond-Carolina, South Kingstown, Watch Hill, Western Coventry, West Greenwich, and Westerly fire departments.

The league also includes the Ashaway, Charlestown, Hope Valley, and Westerly ambulance services as well as the Westerly and Charlestown Dispatch Centers and the Westerly and Charlestown emergency management agencies.

Officers of the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League include President Nathan Barrington,  chief of the Kingston Fire District; Vice President Robert Peacock, chief of the Watch Hill Fire District; Treasurer Justin Lee,  chief of the Hope Valley-Wyoming Fire District; Director Scott Barber, chief of the Richmond-Carolina Fire District; and Secretary Chris Koretski, a lieutenant of the Watch Hill Fire District.

Each year the group sponsors a legislators dinner and presents the annual Legislator of the Year award. The award is bestowed upon an elected official who has contributed greatly to the support of the volunteer fire & EMS agencies who are members of our league. This year, the award was presented to Rhode Island state Rep. Sam Azzinaro for his continuing support of the volunteer services.

Each year the group also presents the Chief Frederick A. Stanley Dedicated Service Award. This award was named after Fredrick A. Stanley of the Hope Valley-Wyoming Fire Department. Chief Stanley served as the fire chief for over 60 years until retiring in 2015. During his tenure, he dedicated a large portion of his time to the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and served as its president for many years. This year, the award was presented to Travis and Katie Serra of the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service for their continued dedication and commitment to providing emergency medical care as volunteers.

Firefighters find significant value in the regional training sessions that the league sponsors several times each year. A few highlights from the past were presentations by T. F. Green Airport Crash Fire & Rescue Chief Jack Thomas and Deputy Chief Jeremy Souza, who shared training tactics on airplane crashes and emergencies with the group, and Rhode Island State Police Cpl. Scott Carsten and retired Sgt. Matthew Zarella, who discussed how the Rhode Island State Police Search and Rescue Program and the K-9 Unit operate.

The league also conducted practical evolutions, like the trench rescue drill at Riverbend Cemetery in Westerly and an emergency vehicle obstacle course at Misquamicut State Beach. On Saturday, the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League, along with the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs, welcomed Chief Rick Lasky of Texas.  Chief Lasky’s "Pride and Ownership" training was held at the University of Rhode Island and shared with over 100 southern league first responders.

The officers and members of the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League take great pride in their accomplishments since forming in 1954 and they hope to continue for many years to come.

For more information, please visit www.risouthernleague.com

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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