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‘Get in the trenches’: Mass. legislators try their hands at firefighting for the day

Boston City Councilor Erin Murphy with hands up for accomplishment, all dressed up as a firefighter, boots included, leaves a simulated smoke filled apartment building. Legislators, city leaders, and others got a first-hand experience of what it is like to walk in the shoes of a firefighter for a shift. They experienced the smoke, the adrenaline rush, and the physical stress and strain firefighters and emergency medical personnel face while protecting communities across the state.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

State legislators and city officials donned respirators, air tanks, and helmets on Boston Common Tuesday morning to learn first hand how firefighters do their jobs, often facing life or death situations.

The “Fire Ops 101″ program consisted of four mock scenarios — trying on gear, a medical emergency, a car crash, and a bedroom fire. The drills aimed to give elected officials a first-hand look at how funding for fire departments is used, said Richard MacKinnon Jr., president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, a statewide labor union.

“These are the people that are allocating funds and approving legislation that helps our members do their job,” MacKinnon said. “They’re able to get in the trenches with us and get to work the equipment that they approve funding for.”

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For three hours, 37 officials went through mock emergencies as firefighters would, such as giving CPR to “unresponsive patients” and transferring them to stretchers, MacKinnon said in a telephone interview.

Participants also approached a car accident using the Jaws of Life and navigated a smoky “bedroom” to put out a fire, MacKinnon said.

Kathleen Lanatra, a State Representative for 12th district, Plymouth gets instructed to remove an automobile door in a simulated accident.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“We went in and actually put a fire out, walking on our knees in and out of the scenario — which was not easy in itself — but trying to react and do all those things all at once is pretty remarkable,” state Senator Sal DiDomenico, a Democrat of Everett, said in a phone interview. “Their training prepares them for those kinds of situations. And just me doing that for a five minute scenario, you can really see when the dangerous nature of the job comes forward.”

On fire in a mock-up apartment, participants put out a fire in a bedroom.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Senator Walter Timilty of Milton, the senate chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, appreciated being with the firefighters and speaking with them about the challenges they face, he said.

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“Until you’re actually serving in the fire service, where you’re experiencing [the potential] of a life or death situation on every shift, you’re never truly going to understand what firefighters encounter . . . but today gave us pretty good ideas as to the rigors that firefighters encounter on a daily basis,” Timilty said in a phone interview.

During the scenarios, Timilty said he kept thinking about how the ash-laden gear is a reason why firefighters develop such high occupational cancer rates.

Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia checks her mask before going into a simulated fire.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Firefighters need to have multiple sets [of gear], and each and every firehouse across the Commonwealth needs to have the infrastructure in place to wash the gear to get the carcinogens out,” he said.

During the mock medical emergency, new devices meant to assist in hoisting and moving people were demonstrated, giving legislators insight into how essential funding is for firefighters, Timility said.

“It made me better at what I do,” Timilty said.


Bailey Allen can be reached at bailey.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.