There was plenty of saws slicing through walls, ladder climbing, hoses shooting jets of water, hammering and smoke chasing in Wichita on Sunday as 150 firefighters from across the nation attended HOT (Hands on Training) to help them brush up on their firefighting skills.
Various classes were offered at the Wichita Fire Department’s Regional Training Center at 4780 E. 31st St. South and at other locations.
Firefighters climbed multiple levels of stairs in almost 60 pounds of gear, sawed through doors and metal bars, and learned how to rescue people trapped under heavy equipment or in smoke-filled buildings.
“We heard about this from some other guys in our fire service,” said Todd Mays, a firefighter from Nichols Hills, Okla. “We are doing this all on our own time.”
Their company has recently purchased an aerial truck.
“We’ve never had one and that’s why we are taking the training,” Mays said.
Lt. Scott Kleinschmidt of the Wichita Fire Department said some of the skills the firefighters were learning were how to safely open a roof, break windows on the side of a building for ventilation purposes without having to leave the roof and how to forcibly enter a building.
“These are skills taught to all firefighters when they come through their fire academies but for some of these guys it is about going back and revisiting this information,” Kleinschmidt said. “Maybe they haven’t touched it in awhile due to the low call volumes their departments have. They come back here, get their hands on the stuff and do this.
“For other guys, this might be the first time they learn this. We have firefighters here this weekend that run the gamut from small-town volunteer departments all the way up to large metropolitan fire departments.”
The annual two-day conference drew speakers and attendees from places like New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
Retired New York City firefighter and now assistant fire chief Bob Pressler, from Montgomery, N.Y., was one of the featured speakers.
“It’s all about the training and trying to inspire people to get into this profession the right way,” Pressler said. “It’s all about doing it well four, five, six, seven times in a row. Fire is one of the last true unknowns, So, it is about sharing the information you have learned and passing it on.”
Fire and the types of fires have changed dramatically in the four decades he’s fought fires.
It used to be most fires fought by firefighters were fueled by wood, cloth and paper, Pressler said. Now, most fires burn faster, hotter and sometimes deadlier because of plastics and chemicals.
“When you burn a pound of wood. you get 8,000 BTUs,” Pressler said. “Burn a pound of plastic and you burn 25,000 BTUs. Think of all the furniture in new houses these days made of composite, glue and plastic. The one thing I’d tell people is to keep learning. And then, you have to share the stuff you learn.”