In an effort to better protect the city, Philadelphia firefighters have completed several advanced training courses in recent months including search and rescue and heavy equipment and rope rigging to save lives during a disaster.

Since Jan. 1, the department has exceeded over 500 hours of offsite training.

Fire Chief Pierce Clark said firefighters need to know not only how to properly put out a blaze, but also how to extricate someone from a crashed vehicle, how to utilize various pieces of equipment, how to handle an injured person and even how to save a life.

In addition, they can also be specially trained in several other areas including hazardous materials and swift water and dive rescue, he said.

This kind of training, however, takes time and Clark is proud to say that his men are all specially trained and are constantly keeping those skills up to-date.

"We always have people in training," he said.

Earlier this year, Clark attended a heavy equipment and rigging specialist training in Perry, Ga. at the Guardians Centers, a unique training facility which recreates a modern cityscape following a large scale disaster.

There Clark learned how to properly use cranes and rope rigging during a disaster.

He was one of 30 people chosen to attend and one of only five Mississippians.

The fire department also recently sent three men - Battalion Chief Darrell Wilson, Capt. Myron Williams and firefighter Walter Gordon - to a two week search and rescue class in Meridian.

There they learned the fundamentals of search and rescue and then how to manage a search and rescue operation over a variety of conditions and areas.

Clark noted that all the advanced firefighter training is a "tremendous asset" to the city.

"If something happens, and it will happen, we'll be ready," he said. "It's better to have the training before a disaster. It's better to be proactive than reactive."

Clark added that Katrina taught officials a lot and now they are better prepared.

"It helps the city remain independent," he said. "When an emergency happens, we can start the response to stabilize the area instead of waiting for a response team to arrive."

The state of Mississippi has three response task forces in the northern, central and southern areas. The teams are made up of responders from across the state and when called into action they gather and head to where they are needed, Clark said.

If a disaster were to strike Philadelphia, Task Force 2 from Columbus would be called in, he said.

"You don't want to have to wait one or two hours for help during an emergency," he said.

Clark recalled that prior to him being named fire chief, many of the men had not taken any advanced training courses, only learning the basic skills.

The city of Philadelphia only budgets $12,000 a year for fire department training.

After Katrina struck in 2005, Clark said, billions of dollars were freed up for training and the city has taken full advantage of that, using grants to pay for much of the expense. This includes not only training but equipment as well.

Because of this, Philadelphia has one of the best trained fire departments in the state, Clark said.

Besides the basics, the city has men trained in:

• Dive rescue.

• Wild land firefighting.

• Airport firefighting.

• Fire inspecting.

• Arson investigating.

• Emergency response first responding.

• EMT basic and paramedic.

• Overland search and rescue.

• Two rope rescue courses.

• Rope rescue technology.

• Confined space technology.

• Trench rescue technology.

• Structural collapse technology.

• Swift water ops.

• Swift water technology.

• Boater safety.

• Large animal rescue.

• National search rescue.

• Heavy equipment and rigging.

"The department is more equipped and better trained than others in the state," Clark said. "We are pretty much tapped out on available training."

Many of the men are also trained to be instructors as well, he said, and are able to pass along some or all of those skills to others.

"No matter how much training we have the department is not dependent on just one person," Clark said. "We are able to act as a force multiplier. I can take my knowledge and pass on the training to others."

Clark said, for example, if a large industrial structure collapsed he could take someone and teach him, in part, how to deal with a collapsed structure and that would free him up as chief to perform other tasks.

The extensive amount of training also benefits the state.

The Philadelphia Fire Department currently has 32 men. Of that, 12 are members of the state task force, the maximum slots available that could be filled by the Philadelphia department.

Members of the task force include: Chief Clark, who was recently named a task force leader, Battalion Chief Darrell Wilson, Cap. Bill Chunn, firefighter T.J. Rushing, firefighter Simeon Deweese, Battalion Chief Deric Horne, Cap. Jamar Talley, firefighter Jeremy Shields, Capt. Myron Williams and firefighter Jeremy Morgan.

"We've been fortunate to get the training we've wanted," Clark said. "My men have 90 to 100 percent of the training available to them."

They are also required to perform a minimum of two hours of training a day while at the fire station.

Advanced courses are also made available to newer crewmen.

"We bust our butts to go to school," Clark said. "No one has said we're not allowed to attend as many training courses as we can and I encourage all my men to attend.

"Funds are drying up and I want everyone to get what they can."