800+ Firefighters Attend School In Sevier County Over Weekend

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Sevier County (WVLT) -- Calmer winds on Sunday helped firefighters beat back the brush fires that rekindled on Cove Mountain early Saturday morning. The Wears Valley Volunteer Fire Department says the area is now safe, but we'll need a good soaking rain to put out the smolders completely.

More than 800 firefighters also spent the weekend in Sevier County not fighting the quick spreading brush fire. Those firefighters took the time away from that fire to learn how to fight whatever man, chemicals or the elements can throw at them.

For dozens of veterans and rookies, many, if not most of them volunteers, it was a truly a lesson on how to handle compressed, liquefied, and petroleum gas leaks.

"We have about one or two a month," according to Tennessee Fire Academy instructor Rodger Ogle. "We see them more often than most people occur.

The scene in the parking lot of Sevier County High School was one that might frighten the timid of heart. You could call it a controlled burn.

"We do have control with values and safety mechanisms built in," said Marc Alley or the strange barrel like contraption that simulates a gas leak. "But it is a real fire and we do use live agents of water and protecting."

Even for a 16 year veteran of a fire department such as Waynesville's Timothy Ward, the simulation is real enough.

"It can be scary because you cannot see the flame. You can see it 3 or 4 feet above the actual tank, but during the day you cannot see the flame."

"The last two years, I took courses where I just sat around a classroom," said Hardin County Volunteer Firefighter Rodney Davis. "I still learned, but I didn't get the hands on experience I learned this time."

Experience that is tough to get at any other place or time.

"Especially the smaller rural departments, due to financial constraints," Ogle said, "a lot of times this may be the only fire training some firefighters across the state may get for the whole year."

No wonder some volunteers believe even mistakes, can save lives.

"Out here if you're doing hands-on training and you make a mistake," Davis said, "the instructors are here to correct it, so you won't make that same mistake when you're actually fighting a fire.

In nine years, the Sevier County Fire School has grown from about 300 students to almost 900. The 2007 Smoky Mountain Weekend was sponsored by the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy, the Sevier County Fire Chief's Association, and the Sevier County Training Officers Association.

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