Firefighters Receive Vital Training From Wichita HOT Program

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Hundreds of firefighters from seven states, came together in Wichita for intense hands-on training over the weekend.

The Wichita HOT program is designed to keep firefighters, such as Valley Center's Rodney Orr, on their toes. They're put though simulated life and death situations, including a simulated floor collapse.

"There are a million things going through your mind," said Orr, a volunteer reservist with Wichita and Sedgwick County Fire. "Your mind is like, 'How am I going to get out of this?'"

One of Wichita's own did not make it out after a floor collapse in 1979, leaders said. That's why veteran Wichita firefighters are leading the simulation.

"We built this prop a few years ago to encourage people to go through it so it never happens again," Lt. Lance Diffenbaugh of the Wichita Fire Department said.

But the training offered doesn't stop there.

"We have engine exercises, truck exercises, vehicle extrications, search and rescue; it's awesome," Diffenbaugh said.

Instructors say this kind of training is vital, especially given the new challenges firefighters are facing.

"Between new construction techniques and new furnishings, fires are a lot different than they were," keynote speaker Bob Pressler said.

Pressler has been with the service 40 years and is a former Lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department. He now serves as Assistant Chief of the Montgomery (NY) Volunteer Fire Department.

He says builders now use a lot of light-weight construction. And, instead of the mostly wood, cotton, and paper furnishings of old, most of what is burning inside of homes these days is plastic.

Pressler says with the new and unfamiliar fire situations created by these changes, crews have to have a solid foundation to fall back on.

"When things go from what you expect it to be to that life and death situation, you are going to revert to your highest level of competent training," Pressler said.

He says that makes it vital to challenge firefighters to learn new techniques while reinforcing the basics.

"You have to keep training, you have to keep investing time and getting better at what you are doing because the fire is not waiting for you," Pressler said.

That's just what Rodney Orr and the other firefighters at Wichita HOT training did over the weekend so they'll be ready when they get the call.

"The next time I actually go into a situation like this (floor collapse), I'll just be able to recall and rethink what could happen if you were to fall through a floor," Orr said. "You'll just go back to your training and think: 'You got this, you know what to do, you know who to call, and if they aren't right there, you know how to self-rescue and get yourself out of there.'"

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