PHOTOS: Union Fire District Hosts Group of Volunteer Firefighters from Greece for Weeklong Visit

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Chief Steven Pinch is pleased to announce that the Union Fire District successfully hosted a group of firefighters from Greece this past week as part of a continuing, longstanding partnership with the Hellenic Volunteer Firefighters Association (HVFA).

A dozen volunteer firefighters and additional personnel from the HVFA visited the Union Fire District from Saturday, Oct. 29 to Saturday, Nov. 5. The trip served as a training opportunity for the Greek firefighters who lack advanced training facilities and equipment in their home country. 

A total of 12 firefighters made the trip from Greece, including two female firefighters. In addition, four other members of the Hellenic Volunteer Firefighters Association attended including President Serafeim Tsiougkris, Vice President Dimitris Zervas, International Relations Manager Maria Bitra and photographer Georgios Chionidis. 

“We are very fortunate to have a state-of-the-art training center and equipment here at UFD, and we have always enjoyed the opportunity to share our knowledge and facilities with our partners at the Hellenic Volunteer Firefighters Association,” Chief Pinch said. “This trip was a huge success once again, and we thank their members for their willingness to learn and train with us while sharing experiences from their home country.”

History of the Partnership

Volunteer firefighters from the Hellenic Volunteer Firefighters Association first came to visit the Union Fire District in 2011, as an opportunity to learn new firefighting techniques and collaborate with UFD members. As they did not have access to a live burn training facility in their home country, they used the trip to engage in real-time intensive training as well as meet and ask questions of their volunteer firefighter counterparts in the United States. 

A total of 16 volunteer firefighters visited in 2011, and when they returned home they shared their experiences with their fellow first responders. Return visits were made in 2015 and 2017, with new groups of firefighters coming each time. 

A fourth trip was planned for 2020 but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This month’s visit served as the rescheduling of that fourth trip.

Training, Cultural Exchange

Specific training opportunities provided by UFD members included hose advancements, search and rescue, forcible entry, ventilation, water rescue, K-9 operations and more. The Union Fire District made available their live burn training complex, allowing for much more hands-on training than HVFA members have available to them in their home country.

Firefighters were even able to experience and contribute to a live call, when during the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 2 UFD crews were called to a reported structure fire in the Briarwood area of South Kingstown. 

“This trip was a great opportunity for the firefighters to learn advanced fire training and safety techniques, but it also served as a way to foster other skills such as teamwork and communication when responding to a scene,” said retired UFD Deputy Chief Kevin Quinn, who assisted in much of the training. “They were so receptive to everything we had to offer them and they offered their own unique perspectives as well. It was a great learning experience for all involved.”

In addition to training opportunities, the trip served as a chance to learn more about each other’s cultures and ways of life. The firefighters visited neighboring communities and nearby departments, sharing stories about their home country and reasons why they became firefighters. They met with members of the local Greek community, as well as elected officials, fellow first responders and more. They also did sightseeing at area attractions. 

Of note, they had the chance to experience a real American Halloween celebration and passed out candy to local children on Oct. 31. 

Opening and closing ceremonies were held at the UFD headquarters to bookend the trip, including the singing of the Greece national anthem, a raising and lowering of the Greek flag, speeches from local officials, gift-giving opportunities, and more. 

“I want to thank everyone from UFD for all they did for us this week, making us feel so welcomed and sharing their knowledge with us,” said HVFA volunteer firefighter Stefanos Zafeiriou. “We get to learn so much, and do it in a safe environment. Things move very fast in a real fire, and we always want to know as much as we can when it happens. That’s why it is so important to train, and here we can do things we can’t do back home. It’s so helpful.”

The Union Fire District would like to thank all of the groups and agencies involved in hosting events and making the trip possible, including the Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s Office, Newport Fire Rescue, Watch Hill Fire Department of Westerly, the Town of South Kingstown and the South Kingstown Police Department, South Kingstown Elks, Kingston Fire Department, Bristol Fire Department, numerous local businesses, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), and more.