Accident Prompts Questions About Risky Firefighter Drills

Four firefighters injured, one seriously, in drill team training exercise

By Chris Glorioso
|  Thursday, Sep 1, 2011  |  Updated 9:03 AM EDT
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Three Elmont volunteer fire fighters were in area hospitals Wednesday after they were launched from the back of a truck specially designed for use in competitive contests. Chris Glorioso reports.

Three Elmont volunteer fire fighters were in area hospitals Wednesday after they were launched from the back of a truck specially designed for use in competitive contests. Chris Glorioso reports.

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Three Long Island volunteer firefighters were injured after they were launched from the back of a truck during a drill. 

The four men were thrown from the truck when it veered into a wooden guard rail during a practice session in North Woodmere. 

The victims’ names were not being made public. 

The men, between ages 20 and 26, were conducting what is called a "drill team training exercise." 

The drill team is a troupe of firefighters that practices acrobatic maneuvers with ladders and hoses, often while speeding down makeshift drag strips, hanging onto the specialized vehicles.

“It is something that has gone on for decades, 100 years maybe,” said Elmont Fire Chief Mike Capoziello. “It’s prevalent on Long Island. Upstate departments do it.”

Nassau County police have opened an investigation into the crash.

The most severely injured victim is a 26-year-old man with about 10 years of experience on the force. He suffered a serious head injury, although Capoziello said his condition has improved dramatically since the accident.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our engine members and their families. I’m really not thinking about anything else but that right now,” he said.

The accident prompted questions about the drill team exercises, which have little resemblance to routine firefighting conditions. 

On a Facebook page filled with messages of sympathy for the recovering victims, a firefighter from a neighboring district criticized the adrenaline-filled drills as a waste of time and resources.

“What’s the sense in racing, u get nothing out of it except headaches. If fire districts have money for racing, they should establish career fire fighters like the FDNY,” the post read.

Despite the criticism, members of the Hempstead Fire Department drill team gathered for practice Wednesday. 

When an assistant chief noticed NBC New York's news camera, he requested the team leave the training facility. 

When NBC New York refused, the drill team began packing up their equipment.

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