Brandon Duncan, Watertown Fire Department, opens up the roof of a burning structure to allow smoke to vent during the sixth annual Light and Fight training, hosted April 24 by Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services and the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society. Also pictured: Lt. Ben Sproul, Gallatin Fire Department.
Brandon Duncan, Watertown Fire Department, opens up the roof of a burning structure to allow smoke to vent during the sixth annual Light and Fight training, hosted April 24 by Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services and the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society. Also pictured: Lt. Ben Sproul, Gallatin Fire Department. (Photo Credit: Ethan Steinquest) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – This year’s event saw more than 20 participants rotate through six hands-on fire scenarios, from breaking through locked doors to saving victims from a burning building. Each exercise was designed to match real fire conditions as closely as possible and provide valuable training for the civilian firefighters in attendance.

“Believe it or not, after today we’ll be pushing close to 300 firefighters here at Fort Campbell that have gone through this training,” said Donny Plaster, assistant chief of training, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services. “It’s incredible, especially the fact that’s it’s being done on a Department of Defense installation.”

Access to DOD resources in a central location means Light and Fight training is in high demand, and its competitive registration list fills up within hours. The event also is hosted free of charge, so smaller departments can avoid stretching their budgets to attend.

“I think there’s a shortfall of locations where you can go and get this type of training,” said Wes LaFortune, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services. “You have the FOOLS organization spread out across the nation, and this is a hub where you can bring them together all within a few hours drive. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

The goal is for the firefighters to hone their skills, form friendships and take what they learn back to their communities, LaFortune said.

“Really, it’s partnership building,” Plaster said. “We’re also passing along a lot of much needed skills to younger firefighters in the fire service, and with the training being free it’s a great opportunity to get a lot of these people here at Fort Campbell.”

Andy Demersman, deputy chief of the Erin, Tennessee, Fire Department, has attended all six years of Light and Fight training and considers it a valuable resource.

“We’re a very small rural community, so we don’t get to do a lot of this type of training,” Demersman said. “I’ve got a couple of my other guys out here with me, and it’s good for all of us to get the training done together and get a lot of work in.”

Most of the Erin Fire Department firefighters have completed the training over the years, and they now use similar exercises at home, he said.

“It’s actually helped us out a lot,” Demersman said. “The guys have been like sponges out here, just soaking it all in. They all remember what their training is, and a lot they learned right here at this training area.”

While Demersman has been at every Light and Fight, Taylor Davidson of the Hendersonville, Tennessee, Fire Department attended the event for the first time.

“I saw it on Facebook and I’m always looking to get more training, so I signed up,” he said. “There’s one other guy from my department out here, and we’re learning to work together as a team because we’ve never gotten to train together with real fire scenarios.”

Davidson said he appreciated the level of freedom firefighters had to complete each scenario along with the opportunities for teamwork.

“I feel like this training is a little more advanced in that they give you the chance to come out and make your own decisions,” he said. “They’re not telling you exactly what to do, but they’re teaching you along the way.”

Instructors from across Tennessee worked with the firefighters at each station, providing guidance as needed. Firefighter Charles Bailey, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services, has played that role for the last three years.

“I do a lot of teaching through the Kentucky Fire Commission, so that allowed me to teach whenever I have an opportunity,” he said. “It’s a giant family, and it’s good to have a little bit of experience and share that with folks. I still learn from them, because they may have a different technique or style they use at their department.”

Those exchanges are a key part of Light and Fight’s purpose, Plaster said. Ultimately, he wants to see everyone involved become a more combat-ready firefighter.

“People taking care of people all comes full circle,” he said. “It’s very important for us to pass on our knowledge and partnership, and we love building relationships. What these firefighters are experiencing here today is going to challenge what they already know, and hopefully make them much better.”