Pleasant Valley assistant fire chief Scott Clark knows that responding to an accident isn’t simply rushing to it. Now, many of his firefighters know, too.
“The fire department and EMS in general are pretty good at rushing in because that’s what we have always done,” said Clark, the training officer for the Pleasant Valley Fire Department. “Now, they’ll slow up a little more and find the hidden dangers.”
Thirty-five firefighters from Pleasant Valley learned those lessons during a 16-hour course in auto rescue they recently completed at the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute. Pleasant Valley, with a population of about 3,400, and many other small towns around the state rely on the institute to provide that kind of specialty training.
The institute is a University Extension program that began in 1933 with a mission to teach modern firefighting. The program is the largest continuing education unit at MU. In 2004, it offered 709 courses with an enrollment of 16,176. More than half the people it trained were volunteer firefighters.
Specialty courses provide training in areas such as hazardous materials, aircraft rescue, leadership training, flood fighting and emergency response to terrorism. The auto rescue course provides in-depth training, research and information that otherwise would be unavailable to smaller departments. Firefighters learn where to put their tools; how to avoid setting off airbags, which can deploy at 200 mph; and how to get patients in and out of vehicles safely, Clark said.
The institute teaches classes across the state. For the Pleasant Valley department, the instructors went to them.
“There are instructors throughout the state, so they can pretty much go anywhere,” Clark said.
The institute assists smaller operations, such as Hannibal and Cape Girardeau, to the largest, such as Kansas City and St. Louis, institute director Gary Wilson said.
John Baker, training officer for the Hannibal Fire Department, said the institute provides an important service.
“We use the outreach program for specific classes, things we can’t learn here,” Baker said. “In some cases we don’t have the resources for that type of training.”
Fred Vincel, battalion chief and training officer for the Cape Girardeau Fire Department, said he sends all his firefighters to the institute for basic training.
“They teach within the standards of the fire marshal’s office and also what we require,” Vincel said.
Boonville is a smaller department but has its own basic training. It relies on the institute only for specialty courses.
“They are a strong asset to our department, but for money purposes we try to do as much training in-house,” said Cole Potter, training officer for the Boonville Fire Department.
The institute also teaches leadership and management, allowing firefighters to take their training back to their own departments to share with colleagues. That spares the departments the expense of sending all their personnel to the institute.
Vincel said his department saves money this way.
Wilson said the training can be expensive. A four-hour course for a group of at least 12 people starts at $680; a 40-hour course can cost as much as $15,000.