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Newton Falls Fire training considered

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NEWTON FALLS — St. Lawrence County officials are working to resolve training issues that resulted in the Newton Falls Fire District commissioners locking out volunteers from the fire hall.

A majority of the members of the Newton Falls Fire Department are no longer allowed to do anything related to the department because they lack required training.

“The commissioners have been after them for the last three years,” said Gary M. Edick, one of the commissioners of the fire district that oversees the department. “We got really serious over the last six months.”

Firefighters are required to take a basic training course. Only five of the department’s 23 members have the training, Mr. Edick said.

Without the course work, members are not covered by insurance.

“They’re locked out at this point,” Mr. Edick said. “We’re only doing it to protect our community.”

Until the members receive the training or additional volunteers are found, the community will rely on mutual aid from the Star Lake Fire Department, Mr. Edick said.

Gary Lutz, a county district deputy coordinator and a past Star Lake Fire Department chief, has requested that the county Office of Emergency Services arrange a training class in the Newton Falls area. The 40-hour classes usually take place in Canton at a central location.

“We’re going to try to do a special one just for them,” Mr. Lutz said. “I’m hoping it should be ASAP. We are working real hard to get this straightened back around.”

Some Newton Falls firefighters have had trouble making the trip to Canton because of the length of commute and work restrictions, Mr. Lutz said.

The county has tried for consistency in how it provides training, said Robert E. Kerr, deputy coordinator for training.

“We’re getting together with our people and the state Office of Fire Protection to come up with a plan to satisfy this training. At this point, I can’t tell you what it is,” Mr. Kerr said. “We also have to be fair to the other departments in the county.”

Mr. Lutz said he has heard of problems with training requirements in other departments but not to the extent that exist at Newton Falls.

“They’re good firemen,” he said. “There’s that liability issue.”

Mr. Lutz said he understood the actions of the Newton Falls commissioners, although he wished the decision was less dramatic.

“I believe something needed to be done. I don’t know if it had to be this drastic,” he said. “I think this is the eye-opener.”

The Newton Falls Department is responsible for 20 to 30 fire calls annually, but it takes only one injury to harm the community overall, Mr. Edick said.

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