Riverland Community College holds annual fire school

(ABC 6 News) – The annual fire school was held at Riverland Community College in Austin this weekend.

Over 250 firefighters from 75 different Minnesota fire departments attended.

"The benefit of going to a school like this is we have a broader range of classes and instructors from across the state and you’ll be sitting in a classroom with 20 other firefighters from different fire departments. So you’re not only learning from the instructor, but you’re also learning from the other students in the class, sharing experiences and best practices," Wanda McCoy, Fire and EMS Program Director at Riverland Community College, said.

A wide variety of topics and skills were taught in the Riverland classrooms Saturday.

"Basic fire pumps, modern-day fire tech, garage fires, rope rescue. Tomorrow they’re actually going to be repelling off the building. So today they’re learning how to tie their ropes and tomorrow they’re going to put that to work," McCoy said.

"I’m in this class to pretty much brush up on my skills. I’m new to the fire department, I’ve only been on for about a year and I just wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with my gear," Justin Reinke, a firefighter with the Morton Fire Dept., said.

Reinke said progress had been made throughout the day.

"Well, I’m getting pretty darn good at putting on my SCBA mask and getting really comfortable with our gear which is really important," he said.

Firefighters who have been in the industry for 4-6 years worked on basic pump training to become an operator of a fire engine.

"That’s a lot of responsibility for that pump operator so that’s why we practice and train on it," James Zwaschka, a fire instructor at Riverland, said.

Usually, the two-day event is held in Rochester but this year it was held at their home campus in Austin for the first time.

This year, this fire school is especially important with the great need for firefighters and EMS workers across the country.

"People knowing about the fire school and seeing it and hearing about it, hopefully, that will get others interested that are not in the fire service interested in doing that as a volunteer or a career basis because every community needs a fire department and every community needs an EMS service," McCoy said.

The fire school has not been held the past two years because of COVID-19.