The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service is hosting more than 700 firefighters from across the nation and more than a dozen other countries as part of its 57th annual Industrial Fire School this week.

Each summer, TEEX hosts three weeklong fire training courses that attract thousands from all over the world to Bryan-College Station. Last week’s courses brought hundreds of firefighters from 19 Spanish-speaking countries to TEEX’s Fire Academy, while this week’s program helps prepare those who may face blazes at oil rigs, chemical refineries or large industrial plants.

On Thursday morning, a class of 36 advanced firefighters from as far away as Detroit and Baltimore battled flames at a training site on TEEX grounds as part of a bulk storage tank firefighting class. Trainers burned a rail car loading rack just after 10 a.m., which gave the geared-up students opportunities to participate in a variety of roles.

As water and foam clashed with the scorching flames, TEEX spokesperson Casey Richardson said that though TEEX trains thousands of firefighters throughout the year, the annual weeklong schools give students a chance to learn from experienced guest instructors.

“The industrial school is all about the guest instructors’ roles and how they pass on their knowledge,” Richardson said.

One instructor, Robert Reichle, has been a TEEX guest instructor since 1990. Reichle, who has fought fires in myriad roles, including as ExxonMobil’s fire chief in the 1990s, said he attended TEEX academies as a student beginning in the early 1960s. 

“It’s the best fire school in the world, as far as the props and everything they have to offer the students who come here,” Reichle said. “It’s the ultimate place to learn if you want good training.”

Reichle said that the format includes classroom time and field instruction. When asked what he thought experienced students gained most from the industrial school, Reichle replied, “confidence.” He said that some companies send firefighters to gain industrial training that can be more difficult to come by than traditional residential fire training.

Reichle, 76, said he began firefighting in his teens. “It’s a great career and a fulfilling career,” he added.

Richardson said some firefighters travel to Bryan-College Station with their families for the week.

“A lot of families use this as a vacation,” she said, as the firefighters tackled the flames. “Mom or Dad may be out there training or teaching while the families are at the hotels or out in the community.”

Among the advanced firefighting students participating in Thursday morning’s bulk storage tank firefighting class was Chris Porter of Kentucky. Porter said he has attended the TEEX Annual School off-and-on since 1997. 

Like Reichle, Porter described the TEEX School as the best in the United States. He said that the school provides a number of situations that industrial firefighters could face. 

“They have so many different training facilities here, which are similar to what we’re faced with at our facilities and in our day-to-day operations,” said Porter, an operations manager. “They have replicated that here, with the different fires and scenarios we could run into.” 

TEEX’s annual Municipal Fire School runs next week. To learn more, visit teex.org.

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