AREA FIRE SCHOOLS: A TRAINING ALTERNATIVE FOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS
BY ED KEESER
The concept of an area fire school, al-though widely accepted, is not used to its fullest potential. These schools can open up a whole new realm of possibilities for small volunteer and paid fire departments and help paid departments that rely on neighboring volunteer departments for mutual aid. Paid departments can train daily and provide their firefighters with practical hands-on experience. This is not to say that all volunteer departments do not train constantly or get practical hands-on experience daily. Some volunteer departments respond daily to alarms comparable to those of a paid department.
There is one paid department in Cass County, Texas. It goes out of its way to support the other departments in the area. This practice is not unique by any means. The relationship between paid and volunteer departments has developed into an annual training event that has taken place for the past seven years. It expands each year and now involves three states; a fourth is expected to join next year.
Local firefighters and the public benefit from this type of training. Students attending an area fire school will acquire large volumes of information that will help them to function as safe, knowledgeable firefighters in their communities. The instructors can use the feedback from the students in their communities. The information superhighway is so very much alive at these schools.
The school, held the first weekend in June, is supported by the Texas A&M University Fire Protection Training Division (TEES) and the Louisiana State University Fire Protection Training Division, which provide certified instructors, equipment, and accreditation requirements toward state certification.
Since we are located in the Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas (ARK-LA-TEX) area, we involved all three in the program.
Most volunteer fire departments cannot afford to send more than one person to a large state-run school. The travel, lodging, and training costs can be high for a volunteer organization. Moreover, attendance hinges on the volunteers` being able to get the time off from their jobs. Most volunteer firefighters use their vacation time to attend these weeklong schools far from home. While these schools offer the best training available, time and money weigh heavily in volunteers` decisions on whether to attend. Local schools help to fill the void.
The Seventh Annual Cass County Firefighters Association Fire School was held on the Queen City Independent School District campus; 108 firefighters from 31 departments around the ARK-LA-TEX area participated. The majority came from volunteer departments. They came from as far away as Point, Texas, in the west; to Benton, Louisiana, in the east; and Arkansas to the north. The instructors came from Louisiana State University, area fire departments, the Texas Forest Service, and private contractors.
Basic firefighter and advanced skills were covered. Topics included ladders, protective equipment, hoses, salvage and overhaul, self-contained breathing apparatus, fire extinguishers, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fires, pump operations, compressed-air foam systems, and wildland and urban interface fires.
Some specialized courses were also offered in confined space rescue and the ISO (Insurance Services Office) Fire Service Rating Schedule. The state of Texas has moved away from its old “Key Rating System” toward the ISO system. This affects how homeowner, business-owner, public, and private organizations` insurance premiums are calculated. Fire district commissioners from various counties and firefighters eager to understand ISO rules and regulations attended. This course was well-received and will be offered again next year.
The fire school received much support from area businesses and the community-at-large. The biggest supporter was the Queen City Independent School System, which provided use of its campus for the training.
This year Task Force Tips and CASCO of Los Angeles donated a new Task Force Dual Force 70 250-gpm nozzle, which was raffled off and won by the Point (TX) Volunteer Fire Department, which sent four firefighters to the school.
STARTING A SCHOOL
If you are contemplating starting an area school, look around your area for certified instructors. Network with other fire departments that also want to combine training. Other departments will hear about it, and then you will be off and running. The objective is to provide safe, quality training. Try to have students travel no more than three hours to and from the training area. You will also need the support of the community in which the training will be located.
You will need support facilities, such as motels, restaurants, and a hardware store (for those last-minute items) that can be opened on Saturdays and Sundays for the students and instructors. If these facilities are not available in your community, consider jointly hosting the school with a department in a community that can offer the logistical support needed.
Working closely with your city and county officials and local business leaders will help your school to be successful. Let them know about your plans. They may offer more help than you anticipated. The merchants will realize that the better trained your department is, the better their protection will be.
You will probably just break even on costs. For us, it`s never been a matter of how much money we can make. It`s about getting quality training to whoever wants it. If you choose to host a school, the first year will be the hardest. As word gets around, your class enrollment will increase each year. You will feel proud that a better-trained firefighter will be helping you to protect your community. The school is a win-win situation for all participants.
Firefighters from the ARK-LA-TEX Fire School participate in a simulated LPG tank fire. The class is taught by instructors from the University of Louisiana at Shreveport, Fire Training Division. (Photos by author.)
(Left) Students ask questions during a practical exercise on pump operations. They practiced using dry hydrants, folding tanks, tandem pumpers, and city hydrants. (Right) Instructors help set up a confined space rescue exercise. Students underwent six hours of intense classroom instruction before getting hands-on experience with the confined space simulator.
ED KEESER is a firefighter with Cass County (TX) Rural Fire Prevention District #2 and secretary/treasurer of the Cass County Firefighters Association. He is a first responder and emergency care attendant (ECA).