Ethics, unrest and line of duty deaths focus of training for fire crews

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COLUMBIA - More than 1,000 firefighters, emergency personnel and responders from across the country traveled to mid-Missouri Friday for dozens of courses on a variety of topics.

The University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute is hosting its winter fire school.

Tracy Gray, conferences and special projects assistant, said the institute is offering several new classes this year, three of which will discuss ethics, civil unrest and ways to reduce line of duty deaths. 

Gray said the Ethics in the Firehouse class will discuss how firefighters are portrayed in the media.  

"In emergency services, we are dealing with people when something major is happening in their life," Gray said. "We want to make sure those guys out in the field are being sensitive to their patients."

He said the class will give first responders the opportunity to think about situations they might not have before. 

"When we're on an emergency scene, people might not understand why we're doing what we're doing," Gray said. "If the media is there watching, we want to make sure it's perceived in a positive light."

Another class offered will look at ways to reduce the number of deaths and injuries. 

According to the MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute website, statistics show the number of fires has decreased while the number of firefighter deaths and injuries has increased. 

Gray said one reason for the increase in firefighter deaths may be due to byproducts given off in newer buildings. 

"The firefighters are ingesting that either through absorption of their skin or inhalation without wearing their proper gear," Gray said. "Each year we lose, just with cancer, about 500 firefighters annually." 

Nick Keller, a fire school student from the Lake of the Ozarks, said he tries not to think about the dangers of the job too often. 

"The only way to prevent deaths is to really just train and make sure your guys are in sync with each other," Keller said. "Knowing what new construction is out there and doing a lot of pre-planning before you get out there." 

The institute will also offer a class that discusses civil unrest situations similar to the events that took place in Fergurson in 2014. 

Gray said the participating students range from beginner firefighters to seasoned veterans. 

"It gives an opportunity for those participants to sit next to each other and the camaraderie that happens is really great," Gray said.

The institute offers a livestream of the event for emergency responders who cannot attend.