MICHIGAN CITY | Firefighters from across the country were in Michigan City this week learning to be certified instructors in live fire training.
"When we train people who train people, it makes all of the difference," said Lori Postma, a nurse with Franciscan Alliance in Munster and a member of the Lake Village Fire Department.
Bales of hay and wood pallets were set ablaze Thursday to create heavy smoke inside the four-story, all-steel structure at the Michigan City Fire Department's training facility on Hitchcock Street near Indiana State Prison.
Firefighter instructors from as close as LaPorte, Michigan City, Washington Township and Gary were there to become certified in teaching live fire training under the standards of the Florida-based International Society of Fire Service Instructors NFPA 1403.
Some of the firefighters were from Virginia.
The remainder of the training was in the classroom Wednesday and Friday at Blue Chip Casino.
Michael Kemp, an ISFA instructor, said the already certified firefighter instructors were learning the top-notch and nationally recognized ISFA standards for live fire training.
The ISFA teaches the course throughout the country and in Canada.
The organization was created several decades ago as a result of firefighters sometimes dying or being hurt in training courses overseen by their own individual fire departments, he said.
Many of the training accidents were caused by local departments using "inadequate fuel loads. Improper materials" during their own live fire training.
"That's why we got involved," said Kemp.
Kemp said the most important thing to get across during live fire instruction is not to panic and for teachers to maintain control of their group of students "so nobody gets hurt or killed" during the simulated fire training.
"You got to get real close to them. Talk to them. Reassure them that everything is O so you can calm them down," said Kemp.
Groups of five firefighter students overseen by an instructor went into the smoke-filled building with flames showing and took turns going inside learning proper safety techniques and procedures.
"They rotate through that process so every one of them gets that opportunity to become that instructor," said Kemp.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians were also brushing up on their skills treating firefighters who might be overcome by smoke or injured in some other way while fighting a fire.
Ambulances were also standing by just in case of an accident during the live fire training.
The training facility, which also features steel windows, was designed to receive very little if any damage so it can be reused in future live fire training sessions.
"The building was created to accept this heat," said Postma.