- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

NEMO, S.D. (AP) - New personnel were introduced to the world of firefighting at the Box Elder Work Center last week as the Forest Service conducted firefighter training to create its new force of Type II certified firefighting teams.

A total of 34 personnel consisting of four National Park Service employees, five Box Elder Job Corps students, one Bureau of Land Management firefighter, and 24 Forest Service firefighters took part in the training.

In the months ahead, some of the trainees will be manning fire lookout towers in the Black Hills. Others will be auxiliaries who will be performing tasks such as dispatch and transportation. But most of the new personnel will be taking on the vital task of fighting fires on the ground.

One firefighter trainee, Mariah Wieske Ormsby, is from Indiana, and saw firefighting as an opportunity to work in the outdoors. She said she had worked with the Forest Service during one previous fire season.

“I loved it. It’s why I’m back this year,” she told the Black Hills Pioneer (https://bit.ly/2qDF96O ).

The training exercise followed the same procedures that would be used in fighting a real fire except that, instead of real fires, the crews would be dealing with fire areas marked out by smoke bombs.

“The fire training involves everything except the fire,” said Robert Cota, assistant fire management officer for the Box Elder Job Corps fire program.

For the trainees, the primary lessons to be learned are about procedures, he said.

A fire is reported. The crews are alerted. The crews are transported and marched to the scene of the fire. They organize themselves into squads and plan their attack strategies using whatever tools and equipment they have available.

On this day, they have a fire engine with about 1,000 feet of hose stored on the truck’s spools and in backpacks stored on the trucks. Some selected members of the crews strap on the backpacks and head up the ridge toward the fire line, with the hose feeding out the bottom of the backpack as they walk. The hoses are connected, the valves are turned on, and the work of wetting down the fire line can begin.

A second set of lessons to be learned is in the use of firefighting tools.

Most of the hard work of the training exercise is done by creating hand lines with the tried-and-true tools of wildland firefighting, said Cota.

One of them is the Pulaski hand axe invented by legendary Forest Service ranger Ed Pulaski more than one hundred years ago. Another is the McLeod fire tool, which is a combination of hoe and rake. They were also trained in the use of a combi-tool, which is a combination of a spade, shovel and pick.

The objective is to create a line of bare earth around the fire as quickly as possible to deprive the fire of fuels.

There were four engines at the site that were used for engine orientation and fire hose training. A helitack ground unit transport truck was also on hand for training in communications with aircraft, coordination between ground and aerial firefighting assets, and for training in handling the ground equipment and accessories used by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

Other tools used in the fire training were the drip torches used to start back fires, the compasses and GPS units used for navigation, and the weather observation instruments used to monitor and report temperature, humidity, and wind conditions.

Although the Box Elder Work Center has more than enough housing for the 34 people involved in the training, most of the trainees camped out during the week.

“They’ll be sleeping in tents while fighting real fires,” said Cota. “It’s important that they learn how to do it.”

The training wasn’t a total experience in roughing it, however. Meals were prepared and served by Job Corps culinary arts students who are also undergoing training at the site.

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Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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