Fire departments tackle a mock hotel fire for training - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Fire departments tackle a mock hotel fire for training

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VIENNA -- Every second counts when it comes to fighting a fire. This weekend, fire crews across southern Illinois will get the chance to put their skills to the test.

"The most important thing is good training. You train firefighters to deal with the new environment. It's the reality of the world they have to work in," Royal Mortenson, director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute, said. 

It's a rare experience when a building gets donated for training and even more rare when something the size of the old Gambit Inn near I-24 in Vienna gets donated.

In an area where many fire departments are volunteer or paid on-call, many firefighters said the training was unique, but even more said it was important.

"It's the high risk, low frequency incidents that get us killed. There's not an agency down in southern Illinois that can't handle a brush fire," said Harry Masse, director of Public Safety in Metropolis.

The Illinois Fire Service Institute partnered with local fire departments to help train firefighters, young and old, on how to effectively stop a fire in such a large structure.

Director Mortenson said fighting fires today is much more dangerous than it was in the past. This is due to modern homes being constructed of manufactured materials such as pressed wood and petroleum products.

"They burn quicker. They burn hotter. Firefighters have to be able to get in and get out and do their job much quicker today than they did 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago," he said.

Another aspect to the training is that in the controlled fire, firefighters are able to make mistakes they can't make in the field and are encouraged to learn from those mistakes.

Masse said the training builds a better team and better department to protect a community.

"We can have all the equipment in the world, but if we don't know how to us it and use it together, that's just as dangerous," he said.

Once the training is complete, the building will be completely burned down.

So far this year the IFSI has trained 62,378 students in 100 of Illinois' 102 counties.

IFSI has been the statutory fire training institution for fire departments in the State of Illinois and is headquartered in Champaign.

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