JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.– Water is the firefighter’s traditional weapon of choice, but it can also be a deadly enemy.

Missouri’s plentiful rivers, streams and lakes are a treasured asset for fishing, boating and other activities. But accidents on the water can and do happen, as well as flooding emergencies, and many communities rely on fire service personnel to undertake rescue operations.

“In today’s fire service, we are multitasking like you wouldn’t believe,” said Todd Ackerson, chief of the Kansas City Fire Department’s rescue division. He’s also an instructor for the University of Missouri Extension Fire and Rescue Training Institute’s Summer Fire School.

Despite the name, MU FRTI’s Summer Fire School covers a lot more than fire. Ackerson teaches courses on boat rescue. “Fire departments all across the state are used for water rescue and boat rescue,” Ackerson said.

Participants in the boat rescue training spend one day in the classroom followed by three days of hands-on learning on the Missouri River, including an evening drill.

“Emergencies don’t wait for good weather and daylight,” said Corey Sapp of the Jefferson City Fire Department. “This is a very busy river, commercially and recreationally, so folks are on it all the time. The Jeff City Fire Department responds to the river regularly, so we have to be prepared to respond effectively and safely.”

In addition to specific rescue techniques, the water rescue classes cover such topics as boat maintenance, trailering and launching procedures, and equipment placement.

“And you have to have total boat control,” Ackerson says. “Anybody can hammer the throttle and hang on. That’s not what this course is about. It’s about teaching individuals how to operate those boats with finesse.”

Ron Lowry of the Lake Ozark Fire District appreciates the challenges that the boat rescue training presents. “It’s vitally important for us to get high-quality training with the conditions we’ll be experiencing out in the field,” he says. “Debris in the water, going out at night—that’s when calls happen. So when you get into a high-risk situation where everybody’s stressed out, you have that comfort of knowing you’ve done that, you’ve been there, and your training will not fail you.”

The Summer Fire School also covers topics such as mass-casualty incidents, aircraft rescue firefighting and confined-space rescue. In addition, MU FRTI holds regional fire schools, seminars and specialized training on a range of subjects, including counterterrorism, hazardous materials, industrial safety training and emergency medical services.

The Summer Fire School traces its roots back to 1933 and is one of the longest continuously running state fire schools in the country. Since 2002, the Midwest Wildfire Training Academy has been an integral component of the school. This joint effort of MU FRTI and the Big Rivers Forest Fire Management Compact offers nationally certified wildfire management courses.

For more information about the MU Fire and Rescue Training Institute, go to

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