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Cottage Grove public safety director completes basic firefighter training

Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery participates in a firefighter training exercise earlier this year. (Submitted photo)

It's easier to relate to firefighters after you carry their 60 pounds of gear or breach the window of a burning building.

That is clear now to Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery, who after about 30 years as a police officer and paramedic recently completed firefighter basic training. Woolery trained earlier this year with nine people who are planning to join the city's fire department.

Woolery said he went through the five-month program for firefighter certification and hazardous materials certification to better understand the job of a firefighter. Cottage Grove has a fire chief -- Rick Redenius -- but the fire division ultimately falls under Woolery's responsibility.

"My entire career has been based in law enforcement, even though I've had over 25 years as a paramedic," he said. "The missing piece for me was firefighting. I felt that I could better represent the firefighters in the fire division if I at least went through basic training."

Having responded to emergency calls with firefighters over the years, Woolery said his understanding of their work was basic. His 140 hours of training showed that the job is anything but basic and revealed many differences between fighting fires and conducting police work.

For instance, Woolery said, when you "breach" a door as a law enforcement officer, diversion and surprise are key. It's the opposite for firefighters, who may loudly break a window or door to gain access and aid ventilation.

Also, he said, police officers deal with people and in firefighting there is more focus on equipment. He learned there is a difference between a hose used to spray water and one that sprays fire-extinguishing foam.

Some training took place at the St. Paul Fire Department's training site near Midway Stadium. Crews practice extinguishing fires in brick, multi-story buildings and working on other drills.

Those who trained with Woolery were Matt Hoffman, Tom Graff, Luke Leipzig, Randy Nelson, Nicole Nickel, Kevin Malecek, Rick Munoz, Devon Radtke and Joe Rein. They will become paid, on-call firefighters or volunteer firefighters once they complete EMS training.

While he will have state certification as a firefighter, Woolery's administrative job won't often put him on the front lines.

"If I respond to a fire, I'd probably be the water boy," he joked. "Obviously I have a lot to learn."

Woolery said he has a different view of firefighting, and that should help him in his role as public safety director.

"It helps me validate what their concerns are," he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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