FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 20, 2014) -- The Fires Center of Excellence was the site of a different kind of fires training during the Fourth Annual Destry Horton Wildland Fire/Emergency Medical Service Regional School Feb. 14-16.

Almost 250 volunteer firefighters from throughout Oklahoma attended the free training which was hosted by Oklahoma State University Fire Training Service and the Lawton Fire Department and conducted at Fort Sill.

Firefighters had a range of classroom training to choose from, as well as practical exercises burning and putting out wildland fires, which earned them certificates and continuing education credits.

"We push safety more than anything: their safety, the safety of the people they're working with, and the safety of the private citizens and communities they are protecting," said Paddy

Metcalf, OSU Fire Program coordinator. "When they go out and fight that wildland fire they're going to do it in a safe and effective manner."

Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, FCoE and Fort Sill commanding general, welcomed the firefighters the evening of Feb. 14 in Snow Hall, which also served as the site for classroom training.

"Thank you for what you do," McDonald said. "Everyday your band of brothers and sisters is prepared to execute a very dangerous task."

Oklahoma Rep. Joe Dorman spoke about the school's namesake Destry Horton, who was his high school friend.

A Chickasha volunteer firefighter, Horton, age 32, died in March 2006, from injuries suffered while fighting a massive fire in southern Oklahoma.

"We do not want to see a single one of you injured, much less killed in the line of duty," Dorman said. "The way that we can avoid that is with better training."

Fighting wildland fires is challenging because of Oklahoma's winds, low relative humidity and hill-and-dale landscape, Metcalf said.

"What makes fighting them so dangerous is that sometimes we get tunnel vision, where we only see the fire right in front of us,"

Metcalf said. "We're not paying attention to what the weather is doing, or the topography, or change in the fuel types of the fire."

The state-funded courses ranged from wildland foam fire fighting to emergency vehicle driver training to emergency medical service.

Three new courses were offered including a 16-hour Wildland Fires Incident Commanders class, and a Wilderness Search and Rescue class.

Almost 40 instructors from OSU provided the training and they were supplemented by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, and Lawton and Fort Sill fire department firefighters, Metcalf said.

Part-time OSU instructor Mark Gardner, who taught the Water Shuttle class, where firefighters learned how to bring water to remote locations, said he was impressed with the trainees.

"The firefighters are great. They're very motivated," Gardner said.

Steven Ford, of Cox's Store Volunteer Fire Department, is one of 23 firefighters on the force. He said he attended the training to improve his safety skills. He attended a couple classes including Critical Thinking in EMS.

"We learned how to communicate, how to listen and how to look at the total picture," Ford said, of the class.

Bobby Klein, Fort Sill assistant chief for fire prevention, said the training benefits the post because it makes the local volunteers better firefighters.

"What we gain is that our community firefighters manage their fires better, so they can extingush them, preventing them from coming onto the post," Klein said.

Jared Williams, Lawton Fire Department training officer, said about 50 more firefighters attended this year.

"This is probably our best year yet," he said. "Our partnerships keep getting better."