Two BHS Seniors Excel as Fire Department Interns
Shown (L-R): Chief Steve Gentile, Lt. Jason Bangma, Ryan Venini, Dylan Boucher & Deputy Chief Mark Poirier.
Bellingham High seniors Ryan Venini and Dylan Boucher got a head start on their career vocation when they became the first interns to complete a 10-week program that dealt with firefighting procedures and techniques. The training, which was conducted at the Bellingham Fire Station, started in September and concluded in mid-December.
To say that the duo learned a lot is an understatement. They gained knowledge, perspective and insight in the first mentoring program offered by the town’s firefighters, and they both concur that their understanding of what lies ahead is in clear focus.
“We want to thank Chief [Steve] Gentile, Deputy Chief [Mark] Poirier, Lieutenant [Jason] Bangma and the entire staff of firefighters who took us into their home [fire station] and taught us so many aspects about firefighting that will help us succeed in the future,” said Venini and Boucher. “The mentoring opportunity we received will give us great perspective of what’s in store as we pursue our careers.”
The concept of beginning an internship program was mulled two years ago when Gentile and Poirier discussed the idea. The program became a reality last year when School Superintendent Peter Marano gave the concept the green light. Poirier then met with school career specialist Lynn Myatt to set up the program.
The training, which was available to seniors only and involved 10 hours per week, included basic firefighting procedures, general housekeeping and interviews conducted by the interns. Instruction was offered by everyone on staff, from Chief Gentile to the firefighter with the least seniority. Bangma oversaw the curriculum and delegated lesson plans to firefighters on staff. “It was fun watching Dylan and Ryan grow in their development,” Bangma said. “I was once an intern at Uxbridge High School. The way they absorbed the technique and training was rewarding, and I could tell they’ve got great passion about becoming firefighters.”
The 18-year-old Venini said he wanted to be a firefighter because he “likes helping people and working with people. “Boucher said that the vocation “is in [his] blood.” Boucher’s uncle is Dick Ranieri, who served as Bellingham’s Fire Chief for 35 years. His father was a captain in the Woonsocket Fire Department, and his grandfather was Deputy Chief in Woonsocket.
Both Venini and Boucher called their exposure to the program “a great learning experience.”
Venini said, “I learned so much, like how to use a self-contained breathing apparatus in a smoke-filled environment, how to use the pump [fire engine operations], and how to tie knots in key situations.” Boucher said, “I learned technique, but I also learned the culture of being a firefighter—like how things are done and the responsibilities you have. The training made me want to be a firefighter 10 times more than when I started.”
Venini expects to attend Mass. Bay Community College in Wellesley to earn his paramedic certification. Boucher intends to get his EMT certification at a private company and earn his paramedic certification at Quinsigamond Community College. Both agreed that they learned “a lot of stuff” and that the 10-week period “sailed by quickly.”
Bangma supervised the duo’s final exams, which included a written test and practical exercises. “They got a grade for the program, and it becomes part of their senior project record,” Bangma said. “They both did extremely well.”
The process to become an intern is much like seeking employment. Seniors must apply, undergo interviews by Poirier and Myatt, wait for the field to be narrowed and, they hope, get notification of their selection.
Now that the first internship has been completed, Poirier said that it will be evaluated fully. “During the summer, we’ll evaluate the program, make corrections and discuss improvements,” he emphasized. “We’ll think about having multiple 10-week terms; and, with the help of firefighter Brad Kwatcher, who is an instructor at the Mass. Firefighters Academy, we will re-evaluate our curriculum to reflect the academy’s recruit training.”
Poirier admits that there was a learning curve in conducting an internship. It was not all smooth sailing. “We had some communication problems early,” he said. “We had to discover how to fit in the training with our daily routines. But we all worked together and got rid of any kinks.”
Gentile admired the way the program finished up and believes it’s a valuable way for area fire departments to get to know potential employees. “We learn about who the interns are, we find out things about their character and they gain trust from us,” Gentile said. “In a mentoring program, they learn what to do and they learn the Bellingham drill. I really like what’s been started.”
Gentile noted that any firefighter associated with the Bellingham department who wants to pursue a fire science degree at Anna Maria College in Paxton will get a 10 percent reduction in tuition.
Poirier indicated how pleased he was with Venini and Boucher with these comments: “We could not have had two better candidates to kick off this program. I’m very proud of their performance and achievements.”