The parking lot at South Central College looked like a disaster area, or perhaps a scene from the Transformer movie.

In one area sits a school bus with holes the size of Dumpsters in the sides and seats that are mangled enough to make anyone ask, “Are the kids alright?”

A few yards away a group of firefighters are busily dismantling a car that’s tipped on its side. A few brace it with steel jacks, another taps out the glass on the driver’s side window, another takes a reciprocating saw to the windshield.

Closer to the building, a piece of farm equipment is tipped over and another crew is busily analyzing it.

The scene is not Armageddon; it’s fire school weekend at South Central College, the weekend nearly 1,000 firefighters and paramedics from all over descend upon SCC to learn the latest techniques on water pumping, extricating bodies from car crashes or advancing within their departments.

The annual two-day training event uses nearly the entire campus and, obviously, the parking lots. Firefighters and instructors come from cities as far away as the Canadian border, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“It’s giant,” says Tim Zehnder, the guy in charge of it all. “Right now we’re at the point where we don’t know how many more people we can fit in the building.”

One component of the training of which Zehnder is particularly proud is the rapid intervention team. In this training firefighters learn how to rescue trapped firefighters.

Zehnder, who personally built SCC’s rapid intervention training program, says they get calls from around the nation from departments who want help setting up their own rapid intervention training programs.

Joel Kvilvang, a firefighter from Cohasset, Minn., said he looks forward to coming to SCC’s fire school.

“Mankato has a really good program,” he said. “It helps further me to be a better firefighter, a better instructor and a better leader.”

Kvilvang said he took a series of classes on decision making, and he knows he’ll use the knowledge he gained the next time he’s called to fight a fire.

“It helps make me safer, helps make other firefighters safer and helps me make better decisions,” he said.

Tom Obele, Le Sueur’s fire chief, brought along about seven or eight firefighters as well as one of the city’s fire trucks.

The truck was used in the advanced pumping class, in which firefighters are taught the safest and most efficient and effective ways of transporting water to be pumped (in rural areas, there isn’t always a hydrant nearby).

He said this is where they go when they need the latest information. For example, SCC’s fire school included courses on dealing with hybrid cars, and cars that come with air bags all over the vehicle’s interior.

Le Sueur’s department has about 24 members, but not all of them came to fire school this year — most had to stay behind and protect the town in case of fire.

“Mankato does a really nice job,” Obele said. “The classes are fresh, and they bring new innovations to the forefront.”

Zehnder said he’s already planning for next year’s event.

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