Rhode Island

Southern R.I. firefighters provide training to colleagues from Greece | Westerly

WEST — When a lieutenant from the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service conducted a demonstration with a saw in front of the Watch Hill Fire Department last Thursday, a smile appeared on the face of a suddenly excited Union of Hellenic Fire Service Volunteers.

The Greek native, one of 16 who recently traveled to Rhode Island as part of an extensive training partnership, would not have had the practical opportunity at home and reveled in the opportunity to lead the physically challenging response.

“She stepped forward, turned to us and just said, ‘I want to do that,'” said Christopher Koretski, Watch Hill’s deputy fire chief. “That’s what we hope for as we host these events, volunteers who want to learn and get involved in the international fraternity and sorority of firefighters.”

The training program on the evening of November 3, which brought together members of the Athens-based Volunteer Firefighters Organization with responders from southern Rhode Island, has long proved beneficial to both Greek volunteers and local firefighters, as it Morale improves and provides valuable training and bonds. The visit included a volunteer dinner and a variety of demonstrations from all four Westerly fire departments, as well as with other fire and ambulance organizations from across the region.

It was the fourth time Greek firefighters have been able to visit the state, and the second time they have been doing an evening out in Westerly, the last time being in 2017. Koretski said the program is designed to train techniques that Greek firefighters would otherwise not were not available.

Makis Tsiougris, one of three administrators who helped lead the rides in both 2017 and 2022, said that firefighting in Greece is almost 100% volunteer and they often have to react unprepared. The program has helped them recover new techniques, which are then shared with other firefighters across the country.

Tsiougris said the training in the US helped bring modern techniques back to impoverished areas – techniques that have helped save lives.

“We are lucky and very grateful. This training offers many different things to Greek firefighters,” he said in a previous interview. “There is not much education in our country. They help us teach new ways (to fight) fires and become better firefighters.”

The concept for the exchange came about in 2010 when Tsiougris was visiting the United States on his honeymoon. During the trip, he met with Kevin Quinn, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council, and was given a tour of the training facilities in the Union Fire District of South Kingstown. Quinn learned about the state of firefighting in Greece and Tsiougris expressed a desire to return.

The next year, a select group of Greek volunteers traveled to the United States. They paid for the flights, while education, room and board for each of the three trips were funded by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and were free to taxpayers. The size of the volunteer group has grown in the follow-up trips in 2013 and 2017.

Greek volunteers originally planned a trip in 2020, but efforts were derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the trip was delayed. A third training session is already planned for 2024, it said.

Koretski said that in addition to the partnership and training, the program also attracts local volunteers and encourages them to do more for the community. He said he looks forward to her return.

“The fire service is a brotherhood and a sisterhood that knows no boundaries,” Koretski said. “This is just another way to connect globally and better serve the community.”

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