By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The frigid cold weather experienced in Riverton Saturday morning was itself part of the classroom at the annual Mid Winter Fire School hosted by the Riverton Fire Department in association with the Wyoming State Fireman’s Association.
The annual affair has been held since 1972 with training provided to over 20,000 firefighters from Wyoming and surrounding states.
“We have 35 different classes this year, all hands-on training,” said Fire School Chairman and RFD Captain Scott Walters. “The storm hampered us somewhat, as two of our instructors were in a traffic crash en route here and another long time trainer was down with pneumonia and couldn’t make it. We also had about 40 firefighters cancel due to adverse driving conditions.” But Walters said firefighting takes place in the middle of winter too and firefighters must be able to work in the cold and snow. “For that reason, the weather is a good classroom in itself.”
Despite the weather, 460 firefighters from around the state are attending this year with over 80 instructors from across the country. “Most are state fire trainers from their jurisdictions, but we have instructors from the Riverton and Lander Fire Departments and the Fremont County Fire Protection District too,” Walters said. “It’s a total team effort, we couldn’t do this without the entire RFD and other volunteers being involved.”
Saturday morning at the Wyoming Fire Academy, one of the training sites in the city, firefighters were drilling using air packs, thermal imaging, live fire exercise, high angle rescue, confined space rescue, basic and advanced auto extrication and forceable entry ventilation tactics, among other topics.
“We have firefighters here who have never had an air pack on, never been in a burning building, to firefighters with 30 or more years of service,” Walters said. “So our curriculum here is varied. We do all the basic classes each year, but add to the curriculum each year to keep up with technology and such.”
Among the many people that make the event happen, Walter said, were local businesses who made donations and companies such as Devon who is sponsoring one of the meals and Stallion Oil Field Services which brought a loader and other equipment to aid in the training.
New this year was the addition of Central Wyoming College Nursing Program student volunteers who provided basic First Aid and medical support for the firefighters.
It didn’t take them long to swing into action. “We had a firefighter collapse this morning as he was operating an air truck, two of us ran out to check him and he was able to walk back to our trailer where we gave him some orange juice and warmed him up,” said Beverly Osborne of Riverton.
“I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, and started to feel woozy so I decided I had better sit down. I don’t remember hitting the ground,” said Fremont County Fire District Firefighter Joe Irvin, 25, as he explained he wanted to climb back into the cab of his truck, but didn’t make it. Other firefighters noticed him passing out, called the nurses into action and helped him to the medical trailer. “Look at him now, we gave him some orange juice and he’s got some color back in his face, he was so pale when he came in,” said Kati Gordon of Riverton, “his vitals have stabilized too.”
The nurses were on scene to provide support and monitor firefighters who were practicing entering a burning building. “We gave them all pre and post event checks during the live fire exercises,” Gordon said. Student Maramee Womack of Lander said the testing was to “check and see how they responded physiologically to the fire exercise.”
In addition to the medical support, the nursing students were also supplied with water and juices to help rehydrate the firefighters.
Sage Bently of Lander said she enrolled in the CWC nursing program, “because I was a CNA and I liked it and I decided to become a nurse and have a Big Girl job,” she laughed. Students Hilary Thurston of Lander and Audra Draper of Riverton were also on hand. “The firefighters are very polite to us. I think they’re holding back a bit,” laughed Draper. Thurston noted that the firefighters also came to the trailer “to cool down, it’s so hot in that building.”
“This is the first year we’ve had the nursing students here, and they are doing a great job,” Walters said. .