A birthday in Belarus

by Erin Plummer

MEREDITH - A local teenager is back from a fire and rescue competition in Belarus, bringing back stories, photos, and memories.

Trevor Giroux of Meredith is a student at Inter-Lakes High School. He has worked in the Fire Department Explorer program and aspires to be a firefighter.

Giroux was one of seven students from New Hampshire representing the United States in the Partners for Peace program in Belarus.

Teams from around the globe gathered in Minsk for a week of tournaments to test their skills and knowledge in lifesaving, firefighting, and rescue. Most of the teams were from around the European Union especially the former Soviet Union. Teams included Belarus, Moldavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Belgium, the Ukraine, Germany, Russia, Azerbaijan, and the United States. Every member of the American team was from New Hampshire.

"It's an exciting opportunity; Trevor did a tremendous job over there," said Partners for Peace Program Director David Tille. "The competitors are excited. There's a lot to learn and there's a lot of new cultural experiences."

Last week Giroux showed a slideshow of photos and descriptions of his trip to Belarus in a presentation at the Meredith Fire Station to sponsors and supporters

On the first day the teams arrived at Camp Zubrionok, which is in Northern Belarus on Lake Naroch. The camp is a dorm-like setting where teams stayed during the competition. The camp had a basketball court, gym, indoor pool, cafeteria, a clinic, and other amenities.

On the second day every country's team took part in a parade followed by presentations on their country and their team.

On the third day they traveled around Minsk and saw different major landmarks, such as the fire and military museums, the National Library, a chocolate factory and other sites. They also saw how Belarusian's do their fire and rescue training.

The teams trained for the competitions on the fourth day, training in CPR, backboarding, and other forms of rescue activity. They then took part in a relay race where team members had to run with fire extinguishers, put on a fire suit, and knock down targets with a hose.

On the fifth day each team put together a safety newspaper about fire and rescue services that displayed students writing and drawing abilities.

The sixth day was the international competition where students were given scenarios and had to answer with how they would respond to them Giroux said his team was asked how they would respond if they found someone with frostbite.

The most rigorous competition took place on the seventh day. Students had to sprint to fire trucks and were split into seven separate groups to respond to a series of rescue situations. Situations included rescuing wounded helicopter pilots, finding people lost in a swamp, saving someone from a lake and other scenarios. The ones that had to be rescued were dummies on which the students performed basic first-aid and transport.

Giroux turned 15 while in Belarus.

"He probably had 300 kids singing 'Happy Birthday' and giving him cake and giving him his crystal bowl," Tille said.

Giroux's gift was a glass bowl in the shape of a bison, a national symbol of Belarus.

The bowl was on display at the fire station as well as various other souvenirs from Belarus including currency, flyers, a German fire helmet, a medallion from the Ukraine.

All funds for Giroux to travel to Belarus were raised through private donations. Laconia Savings Bank was one of the biggest contributors, giving a check for $1,000. Other major supporters were Globe Manufacturing, and many other donors. Most of the funds went for travel expenses and team uniforms.

"Thank you for supporting my trip with your generous donations," Giroux said at the end of his presentation. "I learned about so many countries and their rescue techniques."

Giroux said if he had the opportunity to go again he would.

This is the second year the American team has traveled for the competition. Tille said while students ages 11 through 17 are eligible to participate, the American team is open for students 13 though 17 given the distance of travel.

Tille said the United States does not have normalized relations with Belarus. However, the State Department supported the participation as an act of soft diplomacy and officials in Belarus treated the American team well.

"In Minsk their ministry picks us up curbside," Tille said.

Visas were expedited in one day by a high government official.

The predominant language in Belarus is Russian, though the team had two translators.



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