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SFD offers Fire Ops 101

Anne Schilling, of AMSOIL, left, looks into the burn trailer with Superior Firefighter, Greg Wilson, before knocking down the flames during Fire Ops at the SFD on Friday morning. (Jed Carlson/

Ten community members walked in firefighter’s boots (and gear) Friday during the Superior Fire Department’s annual Fire Ops 101 course.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Dave Sletten of Douglas County Emergency Management after he doused a blaze in a burn trailer. In his job, Sletten works a lot with firefighters. But Friday’s event gave him a chance to walk in their shoes.

“This is a blast,” said Roger Childs, the finance manager at Benna Ford, as he waited his turn to pull a door off a car. His favorite part of the course was breaking out auto glass with a window punch. Connie Sylvester of Water Rescue Innovations in Duluth was surprised how much impact the small tool had on a window.

“The whole thing shattered,” she said.

For Sylvester, the half-day event was an opportunity to face fire and fears. It was a fight for Sylvester, who has claustrophobia, just to suit up in the required gear. Halfway through a close-quarters search and rescue operation, she stopped. Not wanting to let her partner down, the business owner continued and they rescued the “victim” together.

Participants said the training was realistic and gave them a new perspective on the work firefighters do. They split as to their favorite part of the exercise. Some enjoyed working with the power tools needed for auto extrication. Others preferred battling the live blaze. Anne Schilling with AMSOIL said the training gave her a new respect for firefighters and a better understanding of what to expect if they respond to the business.

“It was the coolest part of my job today,” said Mark Hennessey, sales manager with Superior Fuel Company, after knocking down the fire in the burn trailer.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually suit up and live a day in their shoes,” Sletten said.

This is the fourth year the department has offered the Fire Ops course, and the first time it’s was held in Superior.

Superior Fuel Company provided propane for the burn trailer and Stadium Towing donated cars for demolition. The Cloquet Area Fire Department burn trailer was also instrumental to the exercise.

Firefighter Camron Vollbrecht, who coordinated the event, said firefighters can tell people what they do, but this gives them a chance to experience it.

“They understand a lot better when they’ve been through it,” he said.