Intensive smoke diver training prepares local firefighters for the worst-case scenario


WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – More than 500 firefighters are on staff in Wichita. Of those, only six have been through the smoke divers training in Georgia, and three others attended a spin-off course in Oklahoma and Indiana. 

Those who have passed the training said it is helping their response time to save those in need. 

(Photo courtesy Stephen Runyan)

The smoke diver training sounds just like it looks – firefighters learn how to dive into burning homes to save people trapped in a fire.

In Georgia, roughly 20 in-state and 20 out-of-state firefighters are selected each year. On average, fewer than half pass the training.

One of those who made the cut was Captain Stephen Runyan of the Wichita Fire Department.

“It’s the hardest but most rewarding week of your life,” Runyan said. “Over six days, 60 hours, it hammers home that you will think about search and pay attention to your surroundings as far as searchable spaces and opportunities.”

The newest trained member is firefighter Brian Doffing. 

“It puts you as close as you can to situations we face regularly on the streets, but then you can actually test it,” Doffing said. “Five instructors per student, so anything you do wrong, they will see, and they will correct and fix it.”

Runyan said it enhances their critical thinking skills in the heat of an emergency and hones their skills to save a person quickly. 

That training doesn’t stop in Georgia. Each year, during a weekend in September, a condensed version of the smoke diver training is held here.

It teaches crews about exercise, nutrition, vehicle extraction, structure fires, and how to quickly save someone stuck inside.

“It’s beneficial because we just give them a taste,” Runyan said.

With an average of more than one structure fire a day in Wichita, both said this training will help change the outcome.

“We want the citizens to know that we put them first, and I mean, we are doing everything we can every single day, and my ultimate goal is to save lives,” Runyan said.

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