Radoslaw Makowski returns home this weekend after a month-long visit to Alexandria. But, his stay was not that of the regular Old Town tourist.
He lived in Alexandria Fire Department stations, rode on Alexandria fire trucks making actual calls, participated in EMS drills and, throughout September, generally lived the life of an Alexandria firefighter. He also got to experience the life of a U.S. firefighter in neighboring jurisdictions.
Radi, as friends know him in his homeland of Poland, is a fourth-year cadet at the Main School of the National Fire College in Warsaw. He was here as part of an international fire exchange and networking program, IN-FIRENET. A program recognized by the U.S. Department of State, it is designed to foster respect, tolerance and understanding between nations and their peoples.
Under this exchange program, cadets are placed in various countries fire departments for one month at the end of each summer. In addition to gaining a broader knowledge of firefighting skills and techniques used by other nations, they also have an opportunity to take advantage of nearby cultural opportunities and interact with the citizens of those nations.
I have always wanted to go to firefighting school, said 22-year-old Makowski as he was participating in an AFD rope rescue training exercise. I am the only one in my family to do this.
My older brother, 23, is in college studying to be a lawyer and both my parents work for the railroad back home, he said. We have rope rescue training back home in Poland as well, but some of the techniques here are very different.
Makowski is one of five students from the Main School visiting various fire departments in the United States. There are also two students in Sweden and four in Germany during September, according to Makowski. Fall classes start October 1 so he will travel directly from here back to school in Warsaw, even though he lives in the German-bordering city of Stargard Szczecinski.
Theres no time for me to go home for a visit, he said.
His experience training with Alexandria firefighters has been varied and informative, bestowing on him a different perspective he hopes to utilize throughout his career.
This is a great experience for me personally and one that will certainly help me in my firefighting career, Makowski said. Its also been a lot of fun.
The firefighters here have taken me everywhere, he said. Ive had a few days at every station in the city, plus time on the fireboat, but my primary station is 202. Taking part in the training drills enables me to compare the various techniques and increases my overall knowledge.
The Main School is the academy for Polands national fire service. Cadets undergo rigorous education in fire protection, engineering and other subjects over a four-year period.
They also concentrate on skills to become supervisors with the goal of one day being chief officers, according to Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel.