Special to The Herald
NEW BRITAIN – In addition to their duties as first responders, city firefighters will be taking on a new challenge, one that partners the fire department with local schools.
The city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department announced a collaboration with the fire department for a new after school program.
Firefighters will be visiting the Exercise the Right Choice After School Program at Pulaski and Slade middle schools through the Firefighters, Youth and Recreation Engagement program. The idea for the F.Y.R.E. program came to Fire Chief Raul Ortiz this year after discussions with members of the Parks and Recreation Department as a way for the department to engage with kids, Ortiz said.
“We’re all about being positive members of the community.”
There’s no exact structured format yet, but the program will coincide with the Parks and Recreation Department’s E.R.C. program. The E.R.C. After School Program is a free, 33-week after school program that focuses on academic enrichment, leadership development and healthy living. It is funded by the American Savings Foundation.
The F.Y.R.E. program aims to bring together firefighters and youngsters on a monthly basis to strengthen and develop positive youth and adult relationships. Local firefighters will work alongside the participants as individuals and in groups. Firefighters will introduce themselves to students and then regularly integrate in activities, such as homework help, shooting hoops on the basketball court or board games, Ortiz said.
“We are excited to be working with the fire department, and the students are excited to meet the firefighters,” said Program Coordinator Megan Dowling. She expects about 20-30 of the program’s 60-70 students to participate.
One company, which usually consists of three firefighters, will be visiting the schools during their on-duty hours to start, with a different company making the visit each time, Ortiz said. Other companies are available to cover their absence should an incident occur with no disruption in services.
But, “as we begin formulating relationships I would encourage firefighters on their off time to continue coming to the program,” Ortiz added. The students will see that firefighters are regular people outside of responding to fire and other emergency events and it may be a profession they want to pursue, regardless of their background.
Students and firefighters will also be able to discuss fire prevention habits on a more casual basis, and students may feel more comfortable approaching firefighters in an emergency situation because of the familiar relationship between the two, Ortiz noted.
The E.R.C. After School Program at Pulaski and Slade are currently taking registration forms. For more information on how to register contact the New Britain Parks and Recreation office at 860-826-3360.
Staff writer Charles Paullin contributed to this story.