USA: After a week training with South Kingstown firefighters, 14 firefighters from Greece departed South County Sunday, returning home with new tactics to share with their colleagues.
This was the third year since 2011 that groups of Greek firefighters have trained with personnel from the Union Fire and Kingston fire districts. Kevin D. Quinn, a retired deputy chief for the Union Fire District and chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council, said given the economic crisis in Greece, the training represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for the women and men who visit.
“The basis is a trainer-trainer program, so that they can bring back the knowledge they have and share it with their brothers and sisters back home,” Quinn said. “For 12 of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in the United States.”
The program was funded through donations from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the Union Fire District, several other fire departments and outside supporters, Quinn said. No taxpayer money was used, he said.
“[The Greek firefighters] don’t have facilities like we have,” he said. “We are so fortunate. Our taxpayers have given us this facility, and we have been able to share that.”
The 14 firefighters – 12 of whom are volunteers – are from different parts of Greece. Most did not know one another before the trip. In order to apply, they had to have at least five years of volunteer experience and a willingness to learn new tactics, said Mike Tsiougris, president of the Athens-based Union of Hellenic Fire Service Volunteers.
“We would like to learn some new tactics … and through this training, to develop and continue the friendship that we have developed,” Tsiougris said through a translator.
During their week-long stay, the Greek firefighters visited local fire stations, met other firefighters and shared meals together. They learned about the proper use of personal protective equipment, along with techniques for hose handling, forcible entry, ventilation and firefighter rescue. At the end of the week, they participated in a live fire exercise in the Union Fire District’s burn building.
The relationship between the Greek firefighters and South Kingstown began in 2010 when Tsiougris was in town for a honeymoon. He called Quinn and asked to see the facilities.
“I was impressed … the first trip took place in 2011,” Tsiougris said. “It was a big success. Then we saw that there was prospects to continue organizing such trips.”
Tsiougris said in Greece, there are a large number of forest fires and house fires. The topography in Greece features many mountains and valleys.
Ben Arnold, a principle forest ranger, and Olney Knight, a forest fire coordinator, both from the the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, visited town Oct. 25 to provide instruction in how to deal with forest fires. After learning about the equipment American firefighters use, the Greek visitors took turns running out hoses and doing mock drills.