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SD Fire School unites, educates firefighters

Shawn McFarlane, right, and Lance Dehaai, both with the Miller Fire Department, take part in the hose advancement/hose management training drill as part of the 2018 South Dakota State Fire School with training held at the 5th an Main public parking lot on Friday morning. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
Colton Hunter, hits onto the back of crow bar held by Austin Stover, both with the Timber Lake Fire Department, during a forcible entry station as part of the 2018 South Dakota State Fire School with training held in front of the old Jitters in the 500 block of North Main Street on Friday morning. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

Firefighters from around South Dakota took on a blaze of training last week.

As firefighters busted through dead-bolted doors and maneuvered their way through thick smoke in an abandoned building on Main Street, first-responders gathered Thursday through Saturday in Mitchell for the South Dakota Firefighters Association's annual SD State Fire School.

From learning how to incorporate innovative technology in fire departments to practical classes with live fire simulation training, South Dakota firefighters from around the state attended the three-day event to further their education and gain experience that helps save lives and improve departments.

This marks the second year in a row Mitchell Technical Institute has hosted the SD State Fire School, and South Dakota Firefighters Association President Charlie Klundt is grateful for the host site.

"We have great support from the community of Mitchell, and MTI is a great location for the South Dakota State Fire School," Klundt said. "We originally had a two-year contract with MTI to host it, but since we've had so much success it has turned into a rolling contract, and Dakota Ag also allowed us to expand by training on their grounds as well."

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, each year, an average of 100 firefighters die and more than 70,000 are injured in the line of duty while training, responding to or returning from an emergency incident.

To combat that statistic, a hands-on exercise aimed at training inexperienced firefighters, featured a makeshift house inside of an old steel shipping container placed in the parking lot of MTI, simulating a live house fire with movable steps, a porch, kitchen prop and a bedroom.

Jim Carpenter, the chief of the Milford Iowa Fire Department, said the live simulator is a fire behavior style class, which allows inexperienced firefighters to see how a fire grows and moves.

"This class takes them to that place and helps them learn how to correct fires at some of the most dangerous levels," he said.

Gavin Olson, a third-year firefighter for the Harrisburg Fire Department, said the class helps him and new firefighters learn how to keep flames under control in a pressure packed situation.

An abandoned Mitchell building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street, formerly known as Jitters Coffee Shop, was set up with heavy smoke and burn simulators. The exercise focused on building experience for firefighters to execute forcible entry into a home or structure during a live fire.

Despite the cast on his broken left foot from fighting a fire in the line of duty, Michael Olson, a Sioux Falls firefighter and training officer, was in charge of instructing the exercise.

"This exercise helps firefighters learn the process of hold line development and advancing, along with practicing forcible entry into structures, homes and buildings," Olson said. "We're grateful that Mitchell lets us use this building for the valuable exercise. The fire chief here is great."

In a time in which technology is rapidly advancing, the SD Fire School is keeping up with the innovations as one class featured the benefits of drone operations in public safety.

Tim Simmons, owner of Aerial Horizons Commercial Drone Systems—instructed the class, which focused on providing departments with an aerial platform that can make operations safer, and more efficient.

"Looking for ways to improve fire safety is something we take very seriously, and the new drone technology is definitely an improvement for fire departments if they choose to use them," Klundt said.

A special guest made an appearance this year, as the Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council Kevin Quinn attended this years SD State Fire School and taught several of classes offered at the event.

On Saturday, firefighters began departing back to their local departments with a stronger foundation in all aspects of managing fires.

"It was great success this year, and every one of these firefighters love the facilities Mitchell provides us for the SD Fire School," Carpenter said. "They did a really nice job, and we thank MTI and the community."