Over 700 firefighters from all over the state met in Sevier County over the weekend for classes and training sessions, learning the material and techniques in the classroom, then putting their knowledge and skills to the test in the field.
The 15th annual Smoky Mountain Weekend, organized and sponsored by the Sevier County Fire Chiefs' Association, is designed to provide low-cost, quality training sessions for the departments.
"Especially the volunteer departments, this is pretty much the only training they get all year. We're trying to help other departments," said Jeff Nichols, director of Smoky Mountain Weekend. "If you don't train, you're not safe. That goes hand-in-hand."
The 35 classes, which are approved by the Tennessee Commission on Fire Fighting and cost between $55-$125 to attend, ranged from structural firefighting classes to inspection classes, and participating in them could earn firefighters credit hours or certification.
One of the new classes this year focused on trench rescue, a three-day classroom and training session teaching techniques on rescuing in a construction-type accident.
"They teach the different soil types, which will tell you how stable or unstable the ground will be. Then they actually get in the trench, shoring it up and trying to prevent future collapses and stabilize the area around the trench," Nichols said. "It's physically demanding."
Different classes and training sessions were held in various locations around the county, and Walters State served as a headquarters.
A couple dozen fire apparatuses were parked in the Walters State parking lot behind the school, where two large white tents, one for vendors and one for dining, were set up.
In one area of the parking lot, three "junior firefighters" were competing in a race to see who could correctly put on firefighting gear the fastest.
Two of the boys, Cody Scott and Tristan Clawson, were trucking it and clearly had the edge over the third, more deliberate boy, Justin Williams. He was still putting on his boots when the other two finished and the judge came over to inspect their work.
"Don't touch anything, let him check you," said Amanda Perryman, fire prevention officer for Gatlinburg Firefighter's Association who also served as referee for this competition.
But the judge didn't declare a winner right away. He waited until Justin was finished, then inspected him.
"So who won?" Perryman wanted to know.
"This young man here," the judge said, pointing to Justin. The other boys, in their haste, hadn't securely tightened their Velcro straps.