Next generation of Black Hills firefighters begin training

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Firefighter recruits stepped out of the classroom and into the fire as part of the first of many training sessions.

Volunteer fire departments across the Black Hills showed new recruits the ropes in a hands-on training exercise at Rapid Valley Fire Station 1 on Saturday.

After more than a dozen firefighting courses – roughly 80 hours of instruction – the aspiring volunteer firefighters earned some firsthand experience.

Trainers guided trainees through interactive instructional stations throughout the session. Recruits learned how to tie knots, allowing them to secure potentially dangerous equipment like chainsaws and safely haul them to rooftops and other unconventional locations.

The greenhorns also learned to ventilate and maneuver within smoke-filled structures, deploy ladders and break down doors.

Adam Kuenkel, Asst. Chief of Box Elder V.F.D. and training coordinator, said the hands-on training applies their acquired firefighting knowledge to realistic scenarios.

“The lecture portion can kind of drag on a little bit,” Kuenkel said. “They get the opportunity to come beat on some doors or cut some holes in things … [it] lets them put their skills to use.”

Kuenkel also added that the exercises build muscle memory. He said personal experience in a training environment builds confidence in trainees, whom will be required to perform complicated tasks in stressful scenarios.

Sean Weber, a trainee with Black Hawk V.F.D., agreed with the coordinator’s sentiment.

“For me, this hands-on training is probably the best. I learn hands-on – doing it, being shown how to do it right there; not by videos or by reading a book,” Weber said. “This physical training helps me the absolute most.

The trainers emphasized speed and safety in their demonstrations. They pushed recruits to work fast and smart under the duress of a time limit.

Dietric McConnell, a trainee with Hill City V.F.D., said he was convinced of the job’s dangers and the quick thinking firefighters must perform.

“They really stress the safety of it – life and death – where they will bring up scenarios that they’ve gone through to simulate what could happen and how you should approach things,” McConnell said.

The introductory exercise marks an important milestone for the students: a halfway point to becoming a South Dakota Certified Firefighter.

McConnell’s future career, like many other recruits, hinges on their success in this course: “I’ve always wanted to be in a field that helps people out … last year’s where I started going after the fire [training] and the E.M.T. and all that stuff. This class was a great stepping stone for that and getting the knowledge I needed.”

With a little personal knowledge, these firefighters-in-waiting will be better suited to protecting Black Hills communities.

“A lot of counties don’t provide this, so we’re very gifted to be able to come to stuff like this,” Weber finished.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News