DULUTH, Minn. -- The Duluth Fire Department, in collaboration with the 148th Fighter Wing and Superior Fire Departments, held a “first-of-its-kind” two-week finishing school for newly hired fire fighters from October 17-28, 2022. 13 fire fighters, four assigned to the 148th Fighter Wing, took part in an advanced finishing course designed to assist new fire fighters be successful in their new careers and standardize training plans for area fire departments.
The finishing course consisted of two-weeks of hands-on academic training which culminated in two days of training live fire evolutions at Lake Superior College’s Emergency Response Training Center. The training live fire evolutions featured multiple-level structure fires that required advanced laddering techniques, forcible entry through steel doors, ventilation methods and victim rescues.
The new fire fighters have diverse backgrounds and different levels of training. All the new fire fighters have completed, as a minimum, the required Fire Fighter 1 and 2 courses. Some of the recruits have two-year Fire Science degrees while others have military backgrounds.
“We had a vision to create consortium-style training with a goal of getting area fire departments on the same page when it came to new employee training,” said Duluth Fire Department Assistant Chief of Training, Damon Laurion. “This concept will allow us (area fire departments) to share resources, save funds and help our new recruits succeed during their probationary training period,” added Laurion.
St. Louis County Minnesota has a long-standing mutual aid agreement, called the Lakehead Mutual Aid Association amongst 30+ area fire departments, including Duluth and the 148th Fighter Wing, in northeastern Minnesota. The Association can call upon neighboring fire departments when assistance is needed. The Association meets quarterly, trains together regularly and has developed standard operating procedures for a variety of emergency response scenarios.
To ensure finishing school training was effective, structure fires were staged in stacked shipping containers with doors, windows, rooms, stairwells and other realistic building features that fire fighters will encounter. A team of experienced fire firefighters used plywood, sheetrock and repurposed pallets to equip the shipping containers with burnable materials the new recruits will experience during real fire calls.
Airmen 1st Class Mason Allen, fire protection specialist assigned to the 119th Wing, North Dakota Air National Guard and full time 148th Fighter Wing fire department, said “learning from different instructors with different experiences has been valuable,” regarding the finishing school.
Airman 1st Class Mikey Graves, fire protection specialist assigned to the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard added that “it’s great to apply what we’ve learned to a realistic scenario. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” in reference to the training live fire evolution. Graves, a Hermantown High School graduate, enlisted in 2020 and completed his fire protection training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas in 2021.
The new fire fighters received over 100-hours of arduous, hands-on training and all finished the program demonstrating the required proficiency outcomes. “The instructors from the three different fire departments worked cohesively while strengthening inter-departmental relationships for not only future training opportunities, but future emergency responses,” said Laurion. “We’ve seen that we can share resources, stretch limited funding and co-teach training curriculums that are not specific to only one fire department, but that are industry best practices.”