URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – For 99 years firefighters across the Midwest gather for essential winter fire training. It helps during the coldest months, and gives them skills for the worst of situations.

More than 200 men and women participated in the 19th annual Winter Fire School at the Illinois Fire Service Institute. According to Marketing Director Jill Sauer, 133 of them were first-time attendees. On top of leadership skills, they learned how to operate electric emergency vehicles, with hands-on, live fire and classroom sessions. It’s a requirement in the state of Illinois.

Director Jim Keiken said nearly 80% of firefighters in Illinois are volunteers, which makes this training all the more necessary.

“There are unpredictable, always unknowns when you respond and the only way to mitigate those is through training and mastering skills and this is an opportunity for these men and women to practice their skills in a safe environment,” Keiken said.

He said last year, all 102 counties in the state received the course. Crews will be back in June for the next big training event.