Mark Oswald, a Londonderry town councilor, puts on turnout gear lent to him on Friday during his 24-hour stint shadowing the Fire Department. He learned that firefighters must be able to suit up fully with their air packs in 90 seconds. He said that he couldn't quite get it all on that quickly yet.

LONDONDERRY | By 10 a.m., the town councilor had already swabbed and squeegeed the Central Fire Station truck bays and joined fire and police officers who were planning a homeland security exercise.

Mark Oswald was slated to climb aboard a tower truck for roof inspections at local businesses Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day he sat in on a debriefing that included autopsy photographs of an accident victim.

For the rest of his annual 24-hour field day with the Londonderry Fire Department, Oswald would shadow firefighters | do whatever they do.

This means eating dinner when the firefighters eat dinner. It means turning in for sleep in the upstairs bunk room when the firefighters turn in for sleep.

And it means turning out to respond to emergencies when they do.

Should a call come into the station, Oswald would jump into a turnout | the term for the bunk pants and coats firefighters toss on when responding to fires | or hop into an ambulance to respond to a heart attack victim or other medical emergency.

"If there's a call, we're running," said Oswald, who has shadowed fire operations for a day most years since his election to the council in 1999. He does the same with the police department.

His prime motivation is to show gratitude for the daily work done by local public servants, he said, wearing the sneakers and jeans he traded in for the shoes and slacks he wears in his normal job as a Realtor.

Secondarily, he reports to fellow councilors on his experiences and uses them to guide his council actions related to the fire department, especially during budget season.

"I think seeing is believing," Oswald said.

Town Council Chairman Joe Paradis says more goes into prioritizing budget decisions than spending a day with the fire department but he applauds Oswald's volunteer effort.

"I think it's a great thing to get some background on the day in the life of a firefighter," he said.

Oswald's willingness to learn more about their duties and routines is not lost on the firefighters, said Fire Capt. Jim Roger.

"We appreciate that the more educated town councilors are about what we do, then the better able they would be to make decisions (affecting the department)," he said.

This year holds at least one important fire department-related decision. The town will decide whether to build a replacement North/West fire substation to be paid for by a $1.5 million bond if approved. Town voters approved the land for the station two years ago but last spring defeated the proposed bond for construction costs.

Over the years, Oswald has learned the importance of having well-trained, well-equipped fire and police departments, he said.

Oswald is no stranger to the department, having come by to chat and for breakfasts, said dispatcher Betsy Mahon. She sees value in having the councilor learn about the department and tell others about what he has seen.

"A lot of townspeople don't know what we do at the station," Mahon said.

Oswald says the field day is invaluable, He learns about both the adrenaline-filled and the mundane moments.

On Friday, he got a glimpse of the need to respond to a school emergency, during the Homeland Security exercise planning. After all, he said, "Columbine is not ancient history, Virginia Tech is not ancient history," referring to the grisly incidents of school violence.

As for the mundane, he got in some exercise with the weekly washing of the station's floors.

"I was up to my ankles in water," he said.

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