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Branford Fire Police is a volunteer affiliate of the Branford Fire Department (BFD). As captain of Branford Fire Police, Buzz Johnson is putting out a call to the public: This small but very important group needs more volunteers. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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You’ve likely come across a member of Branford’s volunteer Fire Police on the scene of an emergency response—but you just didn’t know it.
“If there’s an accident or a fire, we’re there. We might be the ones directing traffic, or the guys keeping an eye on the equipment. We kind of blend in. The important thing is, we’re there to give the fire department a safe work environment,” says Buzz Johnson, captain of Branford Fire Police.
The volunteers are identifiable by their fire police vests; they also display a badge and carry radios. Branford Fire Police is a volunteer affiliate of the Branford Fire Department (BFD). As captain of Branford Fire Police, Buzz is putting out a call to the public: This small but very important group needs more volunteers.
Currently, its five-member volunteer corps has three members who are available to respond to calls, including Buzz.
“I’m the youngest one—and I’m 70!” says Buzz, who joined up about three years ago as a way to get involved in helping his hometown. “So it’s time to start recruiting some young blood.”
The group meets once a month on a Wednesday night, during which time they may also drill and otherwise train for their work.
“We’re talking a couple hours, once a month,” says Buzz.
The group might review short training videos, followed by a questionnaire and discussion groups about the training, or participate at active training scenes being undertaken by fire department personnel. All of the training is important.
“If I’ve got to count on you to do something, you need the training to do it. And if I’m working with you, I need you to watch my back,” says Buzz.
New recruits need to be vetted and sworn in and can expect to begin assisting at scenes within six to eight weeks. Every new member is also required to have earned fire police state certification within 18 months of joining the group.
The training that’s provided will make sure they are versed in everything from typical traffic safety to knowing the particular needs and requirements that will best assist BFD on the scene.
“We have to know a little bit more about how the fire department is going to react, and what their plans are, so we can help them and we don’t get in their way,” says Buzz.
Based on the number of calls a volunteer responds to over the course of year, he or she may also earn a small stipend—basically, enough to cover the cost of gas used to respond to the calls, says Buzz.
“But most of us aren’t in it for the dollar. We’re in it to help the community, and to keep active,” says Buzz.
Branford Fire Police are on call 24-7, but member response is voluntary, not mandatory. Most of the time, one or two members will be able to respond to a call, says Buzz. But as the small group’s membership dwindles, that’s getting to be more and more difficult.
Every time a fire police volunteer responds to a scene, it helps free up professionals to respond to more urgent needs. Among many types of roles they may play, the volunteers will take on responsibilities that could range from “directing traffic at a fire or accident scene, blocking a road where there’s a downed wire, or keeping an eye on the apparatus so somebody doesn’t vandalize it,” says Buzz. “We’re there to relieve [firefighters] from those types of things, so they can do their jobs.”
The duties of a fire police volunteer may also include protecting firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) volunteers, protecting bystanders and crowd control at emergencies, protecting each other’s safety while on post, protecting fire department equipment, assisting with police investigations, routing responding emergency vehicles to assigned locations, and re-routing non-emergency traffic away/around emergency operations. In addition, they can act as eyes and ears for the department and investigators as they interact with the public on the scene.
Quite a few volunteers who sign up for Fire Police programs are retired first responders. Buzz joined up because he wanted to help his community. His background includes some 40 years as a firearms instructor for law enforcement, security, civilians, and others, with an emphasis on firearms safety training. In addition, for the past 18 years, Buzz has served as a Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer (Sector 6, Long Island Sound).
Buzz had considered volunteering with local fire police before, but got busy with his career and other entrepreneurial pursuits. For a number of years, he was also active as a bodyguard to celebrities, corporate executives, and private individuals. The Fair Haven native and his wife, Darlene Cardonita, moved from East Haven to Branford about 20 years ago. In addition to both volunteering with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the couple shares a passion for rescuing dogs and, through the years, has adopted five dogs to join their family.
Luckily for Branford Fire Police, Buzz learned about this volunteer group from a friend, who invited him to come to a meeting. Shortly after signing on, the group’s captain tapped Buzz to become its training instructor. The next year, he was made its first lieutenant. Now, as captain, Buzz continues to run training for Branford Fire Police.
Volunteers must not have a criminal record, and must have a driver’s license, driver’s insurance, and their own vehicle. Adults (ages 21 and over, mature individuals welcome) interested in joining Branford Fire Police as a volunteer member are invited to contact Buzz.
“It’s an interesting thing to do, plus you’re doing something good for the town and the community,” he says. “Most of us that do it like to stay involved—it helps keep you active in mind, body, and spirit—and to help our community.”
Contact Branford Fire Police Captain Buzz Johnson for more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Branford Fire Department at 203-488-7266.
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