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Firefighter convention expecting record attendance

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The world's largest firefighters convention keeps getting bigger.

A record-breaking 32,000 firefighters are expected at the annual event, which started Monday and runs through Saturday at the Indiana Convention Center, said Eric Schlett, executive director of the Fire Department Instructors Conference.

"The draw is training," Schlett told The Indianapolis Star. "Firefighters continue to need the training to train themselves and so they can become better educators in the responsibilities they have in their departments. They want to be up on the latest techniques."

Last year, the conference attracted more than 30,000 participants. Indianapolis Downtown Inc. has estimated the weeklong event brings in as much as $37 million in direct visitor spending each year.

Iraq War veteran and actor J.R. Martinez, a recent winner on "Dancing With the Stars," is listed as one of the speakers. Martinez, who suffered severe burns when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Iraq, plays a firefighter in the television series "SAF3."

The firefighters convention holds 200 classroom sessions. Many sessions, of course, are on fighting fires: ones in basements, attics, houses on hills, strip malls, vacant buildings, aircraft, apartment buildings.

Other classes — "Knowing when it is time to go" and "Making yourself hard to kill" — focus on survival techniques.

Firefighters will study smoke behavior, learn how to drive trucks better and brush up on proper extinguishing agents. They also will talk about teamwork and leadership.

The convention features hands-on training exercises throughout Indianapolis, with firefighters practicing tactics such as forcing entry, ventilating fires and extricating victims from school buses or trucks.

Most of the conference-goers are returning attendees, Schlett said, though about a third are new. The convention brings in out-of-state as well as international visitors.

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