Firefighters Converge in Minnesota for Annual Fire School

370 firefighters from more than 100 different agencies trade insights.

by Jim McKay / April 12, 2018

A burning car, a dollhouse simulating a burning house in the parking lot, a course called “Hoarding Fires: Piles of Danger,” and one very important course on how firefighters can keep themselves healthy. Those were just a few of the 30 classes offered at the annual Minnesota State Fire School.

The two day-event was held in Rochester and attracted 370 firefighters from 112 different agencies, some from Northern Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

“Fire in a Small Box,” the course that used the dollhouses to simulate a burning house was a new one and very popular, said Wanda Staska, program manager for Riverland Community College’s Emergency Medical Services and Training Program and coordinator of the event. “That one we offered twice, and it was a four-hour course and filled up,” she said.

“We used the dollhouse and showed [smoke] flow path. Two different houses, one we had sealed up pretty tight and the other one where more air could get in and we introduced a leaf blower. We had the doors on it to show how smoke flows when ventilated in a different direction.”

The burning car prop was provided by the state she said, and the hoarding course, on the dangers of entering a house that might have been occupied by a hoarder, was a classroom lecture. The burning household materials from the piles of stuff in a hoarder’s house can be dangerous to firefighters. There is a lot of fuel, and today’s synthetic furniture and other accumulations in homes burn more quickly and dirtier and present a health risk.

The firefighter cancer awareness class was one that hit too close to home for a lot of locals. “We really stressed taking care of yourself, washing your gear, cleaning off afterward, making sure the trucks are clean,” Staska said. She offered that a lot of firefighters have succumbed to cancer recently, including her husband, Brian, who used to run the annual exercise with her. “Everybody knows Brian and his story,” she said.

Riverland Community College offers continuing education for firefighters and offers two-year degrees and a certificate program that “fast-tracks you to becoming a firefighter,” Staska said.

The college offers everything from Emergency Medical Response, Emergency Medical Technician and basic firefighter courses all the way up through the leadership courses.

The school is well-equipped with props, including search and rescue trailers and a “full-scale house” inside the fire center where students can conduct search and rescue.

But the two-day annual event is much different for firefighters than going to a school for learning. “When they go to an event like this with 100-plus fire departments, they are learning from each other and that’s the biggest thing,” Staska said. “My department does it this way, how does your department do it? These exercises generate a lot of discussion and they learn a lot from each other.”