The Cranston Fire Department will celebrate 100 years of service this Saturday, Sept. 23, outside of Fire Station 2 in the parking lot behind City Hall, 869 Park Ave., and retired Fire Fighter David …
The Cranston Fire Department will celebrate 100 years of service this Saturday, Sept. 23, outside of Fire Station 2 in the parking lot behind City Hall, 869 Park Ave., and retired Fire Fighter David Wild shared his thoughts on how being a firefighter has changed since he joined the department in 1972.
Joining the department almost 50 years after it formed, Wild, 74, has a unique perspective on the department, the art of fighting fires and the very City of Cranston have changed over time.
“Life was simpler,” Wild said. “Most homes were built of wood. Furniture was wood, leather and cloth, so when it burned it was predictable. How it would burn, how fast it would burn and what chemicals would be dangerous, we knew all that.”
To protect life and property by whatever means necessary, that is what Wild said was the mission statement he and his fellow members of the Cranston Fire Department lived by. Wild will also be the first to say that in the 50 years since he became one of the city’s proud firefighters the job has only gotten harder and more dangerous.
“Now, the mission of the fire department has never changed, and will never change, but when a firefighter approaches a house fire now the house is only a small portion of wood. There’s vinyl siding, there’s plastic furniture, components of siding, the window trim, kitchens and flooring that give off chemicals. Some have not even been identified yet, because they mix with each other.”
Today’s firefighter, Wild said, has to be much more knowledgeable about what they can face when they go into a fire and while still working on the same mission of protecting life and property that firefighters 50 years ago adhered to. A “far more dangerous” environment, Wild called it, and that, he said, was hardly enough to describe the harsher world of fighting fires today created by the deadly chemical mixing ground modern technology created.
“One of the main ways that we cooled off a house that was on fire and got the smoke out of the house was by going up on the roof and cutting a hole in the roof to let the heat and the smoke escape,” Wild explained. “We did it that way so that firefighters could fight the fire from the inside and get to the base of the fire. Now, many homes have electric panels, solar panels, on the roof. Cutting a hole in the roof is not possible and that creates an oven inside of the house with no releases of the gas and the heat.”
Between the myriad of new materials that comprise houses and what’s inside them in addition to the changes in a home’s structure, the challenges faced by today’s firefighters explain the advanced qualifications not required in Wild’s day. He said that in his day the training was more simple because it could be.
“Put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” Wild laughed. “It was that simple back then. If it’s on fire, but water on it. You didn’t need a lot of training to understand that concept, but now with all the things that firefighters face you need, in order to become a Cranston Firefighter now, qualifications that weren’t even thought of 50 years ago.”
While things have changed a lot from 1972 to 2023, even in his thirty years fighting fires a lot of improvements were made that significantly changed the way people fought fires.
“The biggest improvement in my time in the department was the communications, and I know it’s gotten even better since I left,” Wild said while thinking back to his 30 years in the department. “Radios. When I first got on the job there was no such thing as a portable radio that you carried with you at a fire. The radio was in the truck. So when you showed up at a fire, the officer on the truck would communicate with headquarters and let them know what the situation was. Then we would all get off the truck, and we were no longer in communication with anyone else.”
Despite the difficulties and lack of technology that came with being a firefighter 50 years ago, one thing that Wild feels made him more fortunate while training in 1972 was that “you were able to burn things.” At the time people didn’t realize the environment was as much of a concern as it is and structures could be burned on purpose in order to give new recruits a chance to experience the new job in person.
“There was this old school in Western Cranston that they were demolishing,” Wild recalled. “So, we actually were able to, on almost a daily basis, fight small fires in the basement. “We’d light small fires and actually train by putting the fires out. The very first time that you, even if you’ve gone through the training and are ready for it, the first fire that you go to is extremely nerve wracking.”
Knowing what to do and being trained how to do it don’t mean much if you don’t actually know that you’re capable of doing it, Wild said. He also said that part of being a firefighter is being willing to do what no one else wood.
“My trainer looked at us and asked ‘if they’re in a building, and it’s on fire, which way are they going to run?’ We said ‘out.’ At which point he asked us ‘Which way do you run?,’” Wild said.
Having trained for this Wild proudly said that the members of his training group proudly said that they would run into the building. It was at this point, that their trainer look them in the eye and told them to “always remember you’re just a little lower than criminals” because even the criminally insane know to run out of the building when it’s on fire, but the fearless men, and now women, of the Cranston Fire department have been ready to do what it takes to protect life and property for 100 years, and they are ready to do it for 100 more.
For those looking for even more information about the history of fire fighting in Cranston, you can attend the anniversary celebration this Saturday where, in addition to food and family fun, there will be a display of antique fire apparatuses. The event will also see a visit from Mayor Ken Hopkins, who will be present to celebrate the department. The calendar for the event, available on the city’s website, promises a touch-a-truck event for young children, demonstrations regarding basic fire safety and sign-ups for free smoke detector installations.