County fire school remains hot training ticket

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Kevin Huffman of Fairland waits at the window before exiting the fire simulation building at the Jasper Fire Tower on Saturday. 


JASPER — The hottest ticket the last two weekends for an Indiana volunteer firefighter had to be the Dubois County Fire School.

Now in its 23rd year, the school organized by the Dubois County Fire Trainers Association provides everything from fire investigator certification to a mandatory beginner course (Module A) that every firefighter in the state — paid or not — must pass before being allowed to climb onto a truck when an alarm sounds and go to a fire scene.

Dubois County’s fire school, with its varied course offerings on water rescue, extrication and various tactics, once had a half-dozen counterparts located around the state. Now it is the only remaining one of its kind.

For that reason, 147 firefighters from every corner of the state came for courses based for the first time out of Vincennes University Jasper Campus, according to Travis Theising, president of the Dubois County Fire Trainers Association and the training officer for the Schnellville Volunteer Fire Department. Some courses were full up, with firefighters on waiting lists.

Firefighters-in-training extinguish a prepared debris fire at the Jasper Fire Tower on Saturday. Saturday's training was part of the Dubois County Fire Trainers Association program to ready firefighters to fight live fires.

“I have gained a lot of phone numbers for firefighters across the state by doing this,” Theising said.

The beginning firefighter course was limited to 24 slots. By the conclusion of the fire school Sunday, 21 of those 24 firefighters had passed their state certification exam on the first try allowing them to join counterparts on their various departments on runs in which life and limb sometime hang in the balance.

The trainers, test proctors and evaluators for the fire school’s classes came from throughout the state, although many, like Holland Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Adam Chambers, were local.

Chambers taught the beginner firefighter class March 8, 9 and 10 and again this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The first weekend, after a full day of teaching, his department was called out just before midnight to a residential fire. It made for a short night’s sleep before reporting to teach class again bright and early that Sunday morning.

This last weekend, another structure fire was reported Friday night in Holland. Although it was found to involve little more than a faulty appliance, it still cut into sleep and fire school prep time.

Dubois County Fire Trainers Association trains firefighters in a controlled burn at the Jasper Fire Tower on Saturday.

It was worth it, according to Chambers, who said the students’ successes at the fire school showed how good a job was done by everyone associated with the Dubois County Fire Trainers Association “giving the students the information they need and the training they need to start their fire careers.”

John C. Smith, the Huntingburg Volunteer Fire Department’s fire investigator and District 18 chairman for the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, served as lead evaluator and test proctor for the Module A beginner course.

Smith said something that stuck out was the level of camaraderie that Module A students from every corner of the state had forged in less than 24 hours. He said the students came from around South Bend, Georgetown, Indiana’s border with Ohio, Corydon, Palmyra, Ferdinand, Dale, West Baden and points inbetween.

“These kids had never seen each other before,” Smith said, but after spending a Friday, Saturday and Sunday together “they are all slapping high-fives and taking selfies with each other.”

Fire school classes began at VUJC’s Technology Building each day, with hands-on instruction fanning out to various sites throughout the county during the afternoons and evenings. The classes cost between $75 and $300.

Firefighters-in-training extinguish a fire on the ground level of the Jasper Fire Tower on Saturday. This room is meant to mimic a fire that could be found in a basement or lower level of a building or home.

Hands-on auto extraction instruction took place in the lot at Astro Security Inc. in Jasper, which offered a live Facebook feed of the auto chopping and dicing. Live burns that were part of the Module A class took place in the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department’s fire tower on the City of Jasper’s street department grounds. An old house destined for demolition in Huntingburg was the site of separate classes on firefighter rescue and firefighter safety and survival. Eight members of the fire school committee even built a three-room, furnished prop a week ago at the Huntingburg Street Department complex on the city’s east side for a fire investigator class.

Theising said the prop — each room was 8-by-8 — was burned Friday. On Saturday, students set about trying to determine how and where that fire started.

Theising said the local fire school committee had been meeting twice a month since September to plan out the two-weekend event. In addition to Theising, other members of the fire school committee and their respective fire departments were: Cody Schmitt, Jasper VFD; David Kissling, Huntingburg VFD; Steve Eckert, St. Henry VFD; Luke Fleck, Ferdinand VFD; Brian Wissel, St. Anthony VFD; and Donnie Heim, Huntingburg VFD.

More on