The Fort Knox Fire Department and the Hardin County Fire Chiefs Association conducted rescue and firefighter survival training at their third annual fire school here Sept. 21-22 that was touted as cost-free and cutting edge.

Fort Knox Firefighter and Trainer Lt. Dave Black said the Army installation was the perfect site for the exercise because the training sites allowed the firefighters to hone their skills.

"We want others to use the resources that we have here at Knox," Black said. "They may [learn to] tie rescue knots in the bay of their firehouse, but they're [using them while] repelling from an 80-foot tower here. [It's] more realistic because we're putting what they learn into practice."

The fire school packed as much realistic preparation as trainers could fit into the two-day training, which included rope rescue, fire engine tactics, vehicle rescue/extraction and firefighter rescue/survival.

Black said firefighters learn from their own and others' experiences to perform firefighting tasks more safely and successfully.

"Much of the training comes from line-of-duty deaths or [injuries] and [many] of these exercises bear the firefighter's name," he said. "Because John Nance fell through a floor and died, we practice the 'Nance' scenario, and we train firefighters to drop a rope or hose to get firefighters out."

Trainers said instruction is best when the training is realistic and the mock-ups are built to code.

"The sizing is the normal 16 inches between [house] studs so it's what it would be in a real-life situation, and we put that into practice so they know they can get through it," said Carrie Blevins, a trainer with the Kentucky Fire Commission. "These are the worst-case scenarios -- that they might have to breech a wall to get themselves out of a bad situation -- but it can be done."

Trainees said the training is designed to sear the lessons into their memory.

"I hope I'll never need it, but it shows you how to get out of hot water and gives you the confidence that you can do it," said Pete Hooker, Pleasure Ridge Park Fire Department. "I didn't believe that my body could shrink to fit through those spaces, but they trained everybody, even guys a lot bigger than me, to get through it -- and they did."

Trainers said realistic scenarios instill a can-do outlook that they consider important in emergency responses.

"Firefighter have to get the word 'can't' out of their vocabulary," said Buzzy Campbell, a trainer with the Kentucky Fire Commission. "If a firefighter can't do something, then somebody dies. You work until you it's done. We can't quit."

David Walters, also with the Kentucky Fire Commission, said training anticipates understaffed departments and trains unconventional techniques that compensate to get the job done.

"Today, we're training [them] to do the Tennessee Twister for departments with minimal manpower." This is important because we may only get a couple of volunteers to a scene in a rural department," Walters said. "Normally, it would take at least four people to lift the roof off a vehicle, but with this technique we cut all the 'posts' that hold the roof but one. We use that [final] 'post' as a 'hinge' to twist the roof off so that we can gain patient access."

Black said Fort Knox offers an unparalleled experience because its wide-ranging training areas can offer so many different and realistic opportunities.

"We've got engine tactics class where we're advancing [water] lines and using the [truck's] ladders. We're searching for victims in buildings with smoke and simulated fires while we're running hoses and water, and it's all happening in full gear and limited visibility," said Black. "It makes for some unique and realistic training, but a fire can turn bad in a hurry, and [they've] got to recognize that and know what to do right now."

Neither the opportunity nor the lesson are lost, according to Luke Mooneyhan, a trainee.

"I've never experienced anything like this," said Mooneyhan, of the Morgan Town Fire Department. "This gives us the opportunity to learn from trainers who have more experience, and the opportunities offered at Fort Knox are pretty unique."