Top of the Morning, June 5, 2014

Top of the Morning, June 5, 2014

The UI Fire Service Institute's Fire College turns 90 years old this weekend.

To celebrate the oldest event of its kind, more than 600 firefighters and instructors — including 23 students from Champaign County — will take part in four days of drills on campus and Rantoul, from dousing blazes to extricating trapped motorists. Here's the scoop, courtesy Fire College chief Brian Brauer.

What kind of equipment were they using at the first Fire College 90 years ago?

The first fire college was in 1925, and is commemorated with a plaque on campus, north of the Illini Union on a bridge that spans the Boneyard. Photos from the early fire colleges look in some ways very similar to today - similar hoses, ladders, and hand tools, but very different in other ways - especially in the areas of the gear that firefighters wear and the apparatus that get us to and from the emergencies. There is a focus on making equipment safer and apparatus more visible and reliable, but in the end, it's the training that makes a difference. A community with the newest firefighting gear and apparatus but with firefighters and fire officers that don't train outside of their department can be at a disadvantage.

What's the coolest, snazziest equipment attendees will see this weekend?

A prototype of a smooth-bore nozzle which has LED lights that indicate if the nozzle is getting the correct flow. We're working with research and development staff from Akron Brass in Wooster, Ohio to put this nozzle in the hands of students at Fire College. It's a cool combination to me, integrating technology (LEDs) that were invented here at the UI into a new product at the oldest annual fire school in North America. Usually the firefighter operating the nozzle, the "pipe man" or "nozzleman," has limited information to let him or her know that s/he is getting sufficient water flow from the nozzle. The Akron HydroFX nozzle has green indicator lights for a good stream, yellow for an adequate stream, and red LED for when the fire flow is unsafe, and the crew needs to seek a safe haven until flow is restored. It's the first product like it on the market.

How many students have gone through College over the years?

We've seen a high of 1,132 students in 2002 (the year that the training was underwritten by a state homeland security grant) to a 25-year low last year with 503 students. The economy has had an impact, but we're also doing a better job of taking training out to the fire departments with a gift from the Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal. Our lowest years were during World War II, where there were travel restrictions that limited who could attend. IFSI held a lottery to identify which students could attend training those years. A safe ballpark would be 52,000 students over 90 years. IFSI now reaches that many students in a single year of training - in FY13 we reached over 66,000 students around Illinois, and we have 576 students registered for this year's Fire College.

Do you have to be in shape to attend?

Short answer: yes. Fitness standards are mandated through the Illinois Department of Labor and described in detail through standards from the National Fire Protection Association. However, enforcement of that standard is done at the local level, where there often isn't funding to ensure that firefighters are in overall good health, and free from diseases that could put them at greater risk of death or injury due to the exertion of fighting a fire. Our research division at IFSI has been working diligently on a national level to help describe the cardiovascular risks to firefighters, and the importance of both fitness and hydration, but in the end it's up to the department to ensure that each member has an annual physical. Many volunteer departments don't have the budget to comply with the standards and laws regarding physicals - they simply don't have the means, or don't want to turn people away.

What movie/TV show should every firefighter see?

There's some truth and value in many of the shows/movies in the past few decades. Classics like Towering Inferno remain a staple of what risks come with living in a high-rise building without adequate sprinkler systems. The Emergency! TV show is what introduced me to the fire service as a child, down to the pedal fire engine and plastic air tank and hose nozzle that I wore as a kid. Backdraft and Ladder 49 showcase the risks and rewards of the job, looking at both the highs and lows of serving a community while being part of a special Brotherhood. Rescue Me and Chicago Fire take some liberties with what happens inside a fire station, that side the public doesn't usually have access to, but still get it right more often than not but with an accelerated timeframe- things that might happen across a big city in many stations over several years are depicted as happening weekly in a single fire station. I think James O. Page said it best when he described being a firefighter going to see a fire movie - your goal should be to be entertained, not trained.

Is there a Fire College Dean's List?

Given the short duration of Fire College, we don't have time to have a competition like that. One noteworthy group this year is the large contingent from the Carroll Fire Department in rural Urbana - they represent nearly half of the students from Champaign County Fire Departments that will be at Fire College.

How is Rantoul helping out this year?

The village has several apartment buildings that were slated for demolition. They are allowing IFSI to send qualified staff there to use those buildings as training props at the 90th Annual Fire College, with more activities being held there later in the month. While we have an amazing facility here in Champaign for training, it can't replicate all of the challenges and hazards that firefighters actually face. The live-fire training in Rantoul will be training firefighters in an environment as close to the actual working conditions as possible.

Finally, the best part of training is ...

Knowing that you're learning, growing, challenging yourself to better serve your community. At the end of the day, it's not the training that is important, but how the firefighters can transfer that training and apply it back in their home communities. That's why we focus so heavily on hands-on training wherever possible, and ensuring that information we provide through training can be applied back at the individual's fire department. Our statutory mission at IFSI is "to help Illinois firefighters do their job of protecting Illinois communities." It's about being able to better serve our communities through training.

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