Lawton, OKLa._Nearly 200 firefighters from across Oklahoma gathered at Fort Sill for the third -annual Destry Horton Wild Land School over the weekend. Each year, hundreds of firefighters from city and volunteer departments attend the three-day school to expand the skills they use when called to a fire. The free training program offered firefighters the chance to learn the latest techniques in fighting wild land and structural fires, arson investigations as well as emergency medical services. Firefighters say this information is vital when dealing with the unpredictable and sometimes deadly wildfires.
The school is named after Destry Horton, an Oklahoma firefighter who died while battling a wildfire in 2006. Horton's death is grim reminder of how quickly things can go wrong during a wildfire. The school is put on by Oklahoma State University, officials said after the intense fire season in 2006, they realized a school like Horton was needed in Comanche County.
The crackling sound of fire and the pungent smell of smoke that peppered the outdoor classroom is all too familiar to these firefighters. These men and women said they know the risks involved in firefighting and realize that there is very little room for error. That's why the skills learned at the Horton school is so vital to their profession.
Michael Merritt, a firefighter with the Lawton Fire Department and Paradise Valley Volunteer Fire Department, said the job requires quick and accurate thinking.
"One mistake could not only harm you but it could also harm everybody that's there with you. It could be anyone down the line, or it could be someone in your department or someone underneath you. It helps sharpens our skills when we get out there", said Merritt.
"You hate that so many had perished to learn these incidences and skills. But knowing that builds on our skills and you don't want to lose a life and that makes it even more important to learn these skills and to better the skills that you learn", said Porter Hill Volunteer firefighter Abby Moody.
Chief Clint Langford said certain firefighting skills can not be taught in a traditional classroom.
"They're learning progressive hose lays so they know how to get a hose up the side of a mountain where a vehicle couldn't get. They're learning wild land engine company tactics, different tactics to work with other units to attack against the fire", said Langford.
He said having the school at Fort Sill is a big help.
"The soldiers get the real-world experience of shooting live rounds. The same thing is happening here with firefighters, we can go into a classroom and talk about what we do, but when we actually light the grass on fire and put the students next to the heat and the smoke. When these students see how the fire truly reacts to the wind. Then, these students get to put the skills to practice", said Langford.
Practice firefighters that attended the school said gives them the confidence they'll need while fighting dangerous and sometimes deadly wildfires. There are two wild land schools in Oklahoma, one Fort Sill and one in Mcalester. OSU officials said next year, they plan on offering even more courses for firefighters, such as forestry training.