As Robert Powell and William Fralick will tell you, being hired as a firefighter isn't like starting any old job.
While most professions will assign you a cubicle, give a brief orientation, and send you on your way, becoming a full-fledged firefighter is a bit more gruelling.
"I came into this as an average Joe pretty much and not having any experience at all," said Powell, a landscaper from Canton. "Now going through this training – it’s very military like."
Powell and Fralick are new hires for the Easton Fire Department. They've spent the last 10 weeks at the Firefighter Drill School in Brockton and are set to graduate on Friday. The program is five days a week for the entire day.
While they've gotten used to the bootcamp-like atmosphere, the first few weeks were a bit of a shock.
"It’s gotten easier as we’ve gotten used to the program," Powell said. "But, at first it was detail, detail, detail. Forgetting your uniform was not an option. Leaving something at home or forgetting a checkbook if you needed to write the state a check: things like that. You had to remember everything. [Physical training] was hard, too. PT was difficult for me."
The training, which is headed by Brockton Deputy Brian Nardelli, is designed to teach new recruits the basics of firefighting from the ground up. The program is rigorous, with physical fitness, discipline and teamwork ranking above all else.
For Nardelli, it all comes back to teaching safety, with teamwork becoming an important factor. While recruits learn the basics of firefighting, they're also working together in everything they do each day - even if that means cleaning the floors of the classroom.
"Without teamwork, the safety goes out the window," Nardelli said. "..Every guy that comes into the fire service, they want to fight fires and they want to go 100 miles an hour and they want to do their job. But, a lot of times we have to step back and say ‘there is a process for how we do this’."
The initial shock gave way to learning how to fight fires and rescue victims, Powell and Fralick said.
While recruits spent much of their time in Brockton, they've traveled to Stow to participate in simulated fires as well.
"Once we got used to everything, then we really started expanding and learning," Fralick said. "The most exciting thing we did was RIT training, which is Rapid Intervention Training or practicing to rescue a fire fighter."
Nardelli also made sure the basics were taught first. While many new firefighters, Powell and Fralick included, have experience as paramedics and EMT's, others have no experience around fires and emergency situations.
The learning curve can be difficult, Nardelli said.
"It really starts very basic – understanding firefighting," he said. "I have guys come into this program that are accountants before they come in and they don’t have any background in fire service. To say, he’s a lieutenant, he’s a captain, that’s a hose, that’s a ladder, that’s an engine company, that’s a ladder company – they perform two different duties – for some of the guys that’s very difficult."
While different towns send different recruits, the process becomes a bonding experience for all those involved - regardless of the department they are representing.
"One of the big things at the end is they’re really pushing each other," Nardelli said. "I told them at the end today – I said ‘you have five different departments in this drill school. You’re all going to go off to different departments, but every year around Dec. 4 or right around Jan. 8 when you graduate, you guys are going to get together. You’re going to get together and go out, whether it be with your families or whatever it may be. You’ll share a bond because you went to the same drill school."
"It drills in your mind that teamwork is huge," echoed Powell. "It becomes a brotherhood."
As for the two Easton recruits, Nardelli has confidence that the Shovel Town will be a little bit safer when they graduate on Friday. He credits Easton Fire Chief Kevin Partridge for hiring the right people.
"If you’re going to lead the department correctly, you’re going to hire correctly and you’re going to get good guys," Nardelli said. "They’re going to come in and they might not know the difference between a ladder and a hose, but if they can learn and you’ve picked the right guys, you know you’ve got solid people and they’ll breeze through that 10 weeks because they’re going to learn and they’re going to pick up everything very quickly. They’re great guys and Easton should be very, very proud to have them."