Firefighter training evolves as need for more volunteers remains

Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 5:53 PM CDT
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - On Saturday, 70 firefighters and EMS staff from northeastern South Dakota traveled to Aberdeen for updated training.

The South Dakota EMS Association and South Dakota Firefighters Association joined together for the annual Northeast District School training at the Aberdeen Civic Arena. First responders from over a dozen counties were present.

While the training school is an annual event, the topics of the training sessions change as rapidly as technology does.

“Our house fires have changed over the years. From my start of the career almost 30 years ago, we had traditional down-filled pillows and stuff. Now, we have a lot of synthetics, so the smoke is more toxic, our fires are hotter, it’s denser. So, instead of just kind of a hazy, wood smoke, we have very black, dense smoke,” said Northeast District Association of Firefighters President Chris Noeldner.

To help firefighters train in a near zero-visibility environment, a local house was filled with dense fog from a smoke machine to mimic a smoke-filled house fire.

”What we’re doing today is we’re doing some right-hand searches in a non-visible environment. We’ll be using this to find any victims that may be trapped inside a house or getting unconscious victims out as well,” said Aberdeen firefighter Preston Gruwell.

Electric vehicles are also becoming more common, and they come with different risks.

”Electric vehicles, the major concern there is the batteries that are in them. They’re obviously battery-ran, and what happens if that battery pack or battery cell gets punctured, a fire is a really big harzard. They call it a thermal runaway, so it can be catastrophic that way. For the firefighters, if that car is involved in an accident, that we don’t mistakenly cut into an area that has high voltage or batteries or protecting the occupants if they’re in an accident and it’s on fire from the toxic fumes and the high-heat fires that electric vehicles cause,” said Noeldner.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the need for more volunteer firefighters. Noeldner said rural departments especially are in need of more volunteers, both firefighter and EMS staff, to help keep their communities safe.

While there are only a few paid firefighting positions in the state, Noeldner said volunteering has its benefits as well.

”Probably the biggest benefit that we have is it’s your community, and it’s people helping people. The pride and the ownership of your own community is, I think, what drives 99% of volunteers to do what they do,” said Noeldner.

Noeldner said those interested in volunteering can reach out to their local department or the SDFFA.