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State firefighting school gets grant for volunteer training gear

Delaware's state fire school is getting $462,000 in federal funds to buy new training equipment for the volunteer firefighters who battle the majority of blazes across the First State.

They staged a demonstration at the school Tuesday with Delaware's Congressional delegation there to watch.



On the grounds of the Delaware Fire School, volunteers in full gear battled a smokey fire inside a two-story brick building. They doused the flames with hoses and drag a human mannequin out of harm's way.

Seventeen-year-old Jaquan Dixon was one volunteer participating in the exercise. A rising junior at Dover High School, Dixon said after the fire was out that he volunteers to stay out of trouble, and someday, to find paid firefighting work -- maybe in Maryland.

"I love saving people," he said. "It's a lot of fun to me. I like seeing the smiles on the kids' faces."

Dixon says he volunteers for Dover's fire company five or six days a week. That's on par with the huge jump in calls that school director Robert "Biff" Newnam says he's seen in his 40-year career.

Delaware's only paid full-time fire department is in Wilmington. Every other city and town relies on volunteers -- and Newnam says recruitment and retention have always been hard.

"The time that they put into training has increased -- they have to respond to more types of incidents, from the house fires, to the car fires, to the hazardous materials incidents, to accidents," Newnam said. "And we require them to have more training."

This federal grant will help with that. It's buying the fire school a new fire engine, so companies don't have to bring their own for training. And it's paying for new EMS mannequins and a prop car for car fire practice.

Alongside Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. John Carney on Tuesday, Sen. Chris Coons thanked the assembled volunteers -- just some of an estimated 3,800 statewide -- for their service.

"I grew up in Hockessin. And my childhood was informed by that sound of a siren going off in the middle of the night," Coons said, "and of neighbors jumping in their trucks and going down to the firehouse and being willing to put themselves and their lives on the line for people they didn't know, but who they made their neighbors by what they were willing to undertake."

The fire school is chipping in about $70,000 of its own to round out the grant. It's the second year they've received it -- last year, they got $248,000 for simulation technology and new gear.