Groton Fire Department Begins New Outreach Effort
New Londay Day, July 20, 2017
By Deborah Straszheim
When firefighter John Stanford was on shift, whether the truck headed to a medical call or an accident, someone recognized him, and the call went better as a result.
“John’s been a firefighter for 20 years and he’s from Groton. Born and raised. So anytime we went somewhere with Johnny, he knew somebody and it was always a good interaction. And it kind of got me thinking, we should have these interactions all the time.”
From that idea, firefighters began making unscheduled stops on their way back from calls to the firehouse on Long Hill Road, chatting with business owners, stopping at summer camp, playing pick-up games with teenagers. Their goal is to educate the community about their work, become a more familiar sight between emergencies and give a little back while they’re doing it.
“I think it’s an awesome idea they came up with,” said Chief Joseph Winski, who was approached by Speranza about trying it out. “Actually, for the kids, it’ll make them more comfortable if we ever do show up, because they’ll know them.”
On Monday, the fire truck stopped at Claude Chester Camp, run by Groton Town Parks and Recreation. Speranza, Stanford and firefighter Evan DeGaetano stopped in the gym and joined the campers for a game of musical chairs.
Xavier Goode, 10, didn’t expect to see three firefighters at camp, or have a chance to shoot hoops with Speranza. But he understood why they were doing it.
“It’s really smart,” he said. “They get to meet the people, the kids. They could teach us things.”
Jamie Lacadie, 7, said it was fun to meet the firefighters, and she wouldn’t be scared if they ever came to her house. “Because I like saying hi to them again,” she said. “We actually made friends with them.”
After some time in the gym, the firefighters followed a group of 4- and 5-year-olds outside for a game of duck, duck, goose.
“The kids definitely are having so much fun with them. It’s a good impression,” said Emma Welch, a camp counselor.
Firefighters gain too back to top
The firefighters get something else out of it, too.
“For us to be out from people and have positive interactions, it’s also good for us,” Speranza said. “It’s good for us because you get a mental break from the seriousness of the job.”
Like other first responders around the state, the firefighters who work in Groton have been on the front line of the opioid crisis. They have rushed to treat people in vehicles, homes, hotels and stores, along with handling other medical, accident and fire calls.
The stop-in program to reach out to the community is not a requirement but a choice, Winski said. To make it a requirement would take away from its genuineness, Speranza said.
“I’m a kid. I, myself, am a kid,” said Stanford, after chasing around the children during duck, duck, goose. “To see them happy ... They’re out having fun with us. They’re not just seeing us when someone’s sick.”
Speranza plans to stop at the Groton Senior Center next, or perhaps Windham Falls Estates, a retirement community on Drozdyk Drive.
“I want to call bingo numbers,” he said. “I think that’d be awesome.”