Next generation of volunteer firefighters begins training
The Red Oak Fire Department is currently hosting a Fire One class for area volunteer firefighters.
A total of 25 students from nine departments, including Red Oak, Villisca, Elliott, Corning, Clarinda, Shenandoah, Essex, Riverton, and Emerson, are currently participating in the class. Red Oak has two participants, Ethan Simmons and Teresa Sparks. Classes are ongoing every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of March.
Matt Franks is serving as the lead instructor of the class. In 2009, Franks took an instructor class through the Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau, which is part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Franks received an instructor one title, which is a national certification, and then went through certification with Iowa State University’s Fire Service Training Bureau.
“That got me started with them as a PRN employee to teach these classes to firefighters. I started serving as an instructor, and I’ve been teaching classes pretty much every year, except for when I got my cancer diagnosis and I took a year off,” Franks said.
Virtually all of the participants in the class have only been on their departments for a few years. Completion of the training will allow the volunteers to expand their duties on a fire call.
“In the state of Iowa, they want firefighters to be trained to Firefighter One before they are allowed to participate in an interior fire attack. We do have one member who took the class four years ago, but missed the time frame to certify at the national level, so he decided to take the class all over again,” stated Franks.
Red Oak Fire Chief John Bruce said he was pleased to see the number of students who have signed up for the class.
“You have to have 12 participants for the state to approve a class, and we sometimes fight pretty hard to get 12. We’ve got more than double that, so it’s nice to see,” Bruce commented.
Franks was also excited to be leading a class with so many volunteer participants enrolled.
“It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be doing this. It also shows that there’s people out there that are willing to volunteer. It’s still not enough, as there are 25 people spread out over nine departments. It also shows the need for more instructors, and instruction, for firefighters pretty much nationwide,” Franks advised.
Franks stressed that of all the 25 participants, only one is currently a paid firefighter. The other 24 are all volunteers.
“They come here on their own time after work. Some of them have vehicles through their respective fire departments that they can drive, but for the vast majority, they’re driving their own vehicles and their own gas to do this class,” Franks explained.
Additionally, Bruce is pleased to see the new firefighters taking advantage of the training equipment at the department.
“We put a lot of investment in with our training room, and we brought in that burn trailer. The tactics they learn in the class are implemented in that burn trailer. We’re one of three testing centers in the west third of the state, the others being Council Bluffs and Harlan,” commented Bruce.
The burn trailer’s official title is the Interior Fire Attack Simulator. Franks said the trailer replaces the training method used by firefighters more than two decades ago: burning structures.
“This trailer allows for controlled burns and is pollution-free. It creates the heat and the smoke as closely as possible to a real structure without actually combusting a structure itself,” commented Franks. “It’s all-steel construction, which means we can put a lot of heat in with the burners, create smoke with theatrical smoke machines, and it even has a forcible entry door. We can also simulate several types of fires in the structure. If something goes wrong, I just let up on a button and everything stops. It’s a safer type of training, especially for beginners or the less-experienced.”
The trailer can simulate the effects of a kitchen fire and a sofa fire. One special feature of the trailer is the ability to simulate a basement, or below-grade fire situation.
“The trainees have to go through the chimney of a fire, where all the heat is coming up and out. In a ground-level fire, the heat vents out above you. In a basement fire, you sometimes have no choice but to go down through where the fire is trying to vent itself out, and you take the brunt of everything to get there. It’s one of the most difficult and dangerous fires to fight, and now we can simulate it,” Franks advised.
Franks said being able to train the next generation is what he most enjoys about leading the training.
“As old as I’m getting, someone is going to have to take my place soon. I’ve been working as a firefighter since I was 19. This shows me we’re going to keep the volunteer firefighter service going for as long as we can and provide it to those in need. To be able to be a part of that by teaching, it gives me my pleasure in doing this,” Franks said.
He also praised all of the students participating in the class, and said they are all eager to learn. A variety of agencies pay for the course, allowing it to be free-of-charge for all of the participants, as well as the use of the props for training.
Being able to train multiple agencies in the course, Bruce said, contributes to the camaraderie of the area departments.
“This is where those relationships are born. These people go through class together, they’ll advance through their careers and run mutual aid calls together and build networking. When we encounter a situation where help from multiple agencies is needed, they know each other and they can go to work. Some of our career staff is assisting in teaching the course as well,” Bruce stated.
Upon completion, the students will all be trained to the rank of Firefighter One. Franks said if anyone is considering becoming a volunteer firefighter and taking a class, there are some steps they can take now.
“I don’t know of any fire department that doesn’t need volunteers right now and is at full capacity. I recommend anyone interested get on the roster of their local fire department. Once they do that, they can request a Firefighter One class, and from there, I or another trainer will be selected to teach. We’ve got a few other instructors around the area, but not many,” Franks said.
All told, the class participants will participate in 160 hours of training for the certification to fight fires inside of buildings.