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Training helps Ironton firefighter become better prepared

The next time the Ironton Fire Department races to a burning home, one of its firefighters will be better prepared.

John R. Leach, a member of the department since the summer, was among 22 firefighters in the state who recently completed the State of Ohio Basic Firefighter Training Program, required for full-time career firefighters.

"It's regimented like the military," Leach, a former marine, said. "The academy is strict because it doesn't like to send anyone out not prepared."

From Aug. 5 to Sept. 13, Leach went through a 240-hour training program which combined classroom instruction and hands-on experience. Students learn to conduct search and rescue operations in a maze which simulates hazardous situations often encountered in rescue operations.

During one of the exercises, the students' face masks are covered, simulating blackout conditions, Sally Wagner, public information officer for the Ohio Fire Academy, said. Then, they enter a maze to find a dummy and bring it out as if it were someone they were trying to rescue.

"We can rely on him," Mike Hasenauer, shift captain for IFD, said. "When our firefighters come back, they're more confident and we can count on them."

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the training, Leach said, was having to go into a simulated burning building to learn how to properly attack a structure fire. However, he was used to it by the end of the day, he said.

Leach said some aspects of the academy was tougher than the Marines.

"I was 19 when I was in the Marines, but now, I'm 32," he said. "Physically, it was tougher. Mentally, the Marines were tougher.

"The food at the academy was awful. I don't know what it was. They would call it ham and it would taste like turkey. If they called it turkey, it tasted like ham."

However, Leach said the academy's instructors were the best in the state and the hands-on experience, combined with classroom instruction, was valuable.

Leach, an Ironton native, has been a firefighter for the IFD since July.

"I love my town," he said. "I'm glad to be on the department and have the chance to help the community. It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of this team of professionals. They know what they're doing."