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Fire College teaches more than basics of fighting fires

Ginny Davis, director, external relations, Fire Service Institute
(217) 333-8923; cellular phone (217) 649-4123


5/25/2001

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.
How to fight a fire – it’s still a key part of the curriculum for this year’s 77th annual Illinois Fire College at the University of Illinois. But given the statistics of what it is today’s firefighters do most often, the curriculum this year also will include classes on how to remove someone trapped in a car, how to rescue a person in a grain bin, and what firefighters need to know about the potential for a structure to collapse.

"Of the 18 million calls U.S. firefighters responded to in 1996, only 10 percent involved fighting fires," said Richard Jaehne, the director of the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute, the home of the Fire College, which takes place May 31-June 3. "The other calls required firefighters to deliver emergency medical services, remove people trapped in vehicles, clean up hazardous materials and respond to other emergencies, as well as false alarms."

Thus, while basic and advanced firefighting, prevention, investigation, and officer-training instruction will be offered this year, so too will be classes on auto extrication, grain-bin rescue and structural-collapse awareness. The college takes place on the UI campus and at the Chancellor Hotel and Convention Center in Champaign. About 800 students, including two from Alaska, are expected to attend.

One course to be offered is "Live Liquid Propane (LP) Gas Fires," which was designed to provide students with live-fire control methods using scenarios involving burning releases of propane.

Another course that reflects the variety of calls firefighters respond to today is "First on the Drug Lab Scene: Awareness and Operations," which will present the hazards associated with methamphetamine labs and the importance of interagency cooperation in dealing with them.

Through the years, the curriculum of the four-day college – as well as the institute’s year-round program of short-courses and workshops – has been adapted to reflect the changing needs of the public served by fire-service personnel, both full-time and volunteer.

The theme of this year’s event is "Partnership: Train Together Today – Respond Together Tomorrow." The keynote speaker will be Deputy Gov. Matthew Bettenhausen. Appointed by Gov. George Ryan to serve as deputy governor for criminal justice and public safety, Bettenhausen, the son of a fire chief, is responsible for overseeing and directing the law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety functions of state government and establishing policies in these areas.

Among the agencies reporting to Bettenhausen are the Illinois State Police, the Department of Corrections, the Prison Review Board, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the Law Enforcement Training Board, the Fire Marshal’s Office, Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Military Affairs.

The Illinois Fire Service Institute was designated as the state’s fire academy by the Fire Service Institute Act in 1981. Before that, the firefighter-training program was part of the university’s extension program. Financed by a combination of fire-prevention funds, grants, donations and tuition funds, the Illinois Fire Service Institute is the oldest Fire College in the United States and is operated as a continuing education and public service activity by the UI.