MIAMI HERALD

Rescue team adds 40 grads


BY JERRY BERRIOS
jberrios@herald.com

Broward County Fire-Rescue is ready to send its largest group of recruits in seven years into assignments, including the department's enhanced special teams.

On Friday, 40 firefighter-paramedics graduated from an intensive eight-week orientation, during which they battled blazes, performed search-and-rescue operations and practiced what to do if they fall into water while fighting a fire in the dark.

The training also filled them in on Broward County Fire Rescue policies and equipment. Each recruit will be paired with a training officer.

The ceremony was held at Cypress Bay High School's auditorium in Weston.

Vivian Vascos, 25, a firefighter-paramedic formerly with Lauderdale Lakes, said she changed employers because she was thinking about her future.

''I knew when I went to [Lauderdale] Lakes that I couldn't stay there because I would be limiting myself,'' said Vascos, of Sunrise. Vascos is interested in hazardous-materials teams or technical rescue, not areas she could have explored at Lauderdale Lakes' single fire station.

She said the county offers advancement and her former colleagues understood.

''It opens up doors for you,'' Vascos said.

She will be stationed in Pompano Beach and expects to serve her entire career with the county.

The new hires will fill department vacancies and spots on regional teams with specialized responsibilities that have been expanded as part of a post-9/11 security strategy.

The teams serve the airport, the Port Everglades area and the future Alligator Alley station, and handle hazardous materials emergencies. Experts in technical rescue are called out when buildings collapse or high-rises catch fire.

''The enhancement of regionalized fire-rescue services affords all the residents and visitors of Broward County an added element of safety and protection within our growing community,'' said Todd LeDuc, an assistant fire chief for Broward County Fire Rescue.

''At the end of the eight weeks, we have all 40 employees who are on a level playing field with regards to training,'' LeDuc said.