Taking to the fire line

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Photo by CHANSE WATSON Graduates of the 2018 Firefighting Guard School that will be stationed at the Idaho Department of Lands Cataldo Office or the United States Forest Service Smelterville Office for this year’s wildfire season. Listed in alphabetical order: Chad Blanchard, Taylor Carlson, Matt Farkas, Madisen Hawkins, Samantha Manty, Brett Milholland, Bridgit Prichard, Hogan Samuelson, Rob Willis and Mason Wyman.

COEUR d’ALENE — Wildfire season is right around the corner and if the Silver Valley is to keep the flames at bay, it is vital that our local Idaho Department of Lands and Forest Service offices are stocked with trained firefighters.

With the conclusion of this year’s Wildland Firefighting Guard School on June 8, it appears that we all may be in safe hands.

Over 10 of the 150 first year students that graduated from the five day long training course last week will be reporting to either the Cataldo branch of IDL, the USFS Smelterville Office, or the USFS Avery Office.

The course itself is designed to train and teach new wildland firefighters the basics of forest fires.

Kary Maddox, USFS Public Information Officer and Biological Science Field Crew Supervisor, explains that the first three days of the five day training course had 6 groups of students rotating through different classes learning mainly about fire behavior, weather, fuels, safety and communication (especially that last one).

In a high pressure situation such as a wildfire, things can get complicated quickly with lots of different people and equipment moving about. Because of this training though, the new firefighters will know what to do and be able to seamlessly communicate with each other in an actual situation (regardless of affiliated agency or region).

“Even the communication plan, the med-evac plan and all of that is a standardized framework so we can come in and all speak the same language.” Maddox explained. “All of us could have never met before in our lives and come in and understand what needs to be built (the plans, how things are going to go and who’s in charge).”

On Thursday, students got to put what they learned in the classroom into practice during field day up Cougar Gulch in Coeur d’Alene. The to-be firefighters ran through several stations to demonstrate their abilities to operate water pumps, lay hoses, use firing devices, navigate with a map & compass, dig fire lines and deploy fire shelters.

The day culminated with a live fire exercise to show the students what it may be like out on the line.

“Crew bosses will spot the smoke and simulate it just like its a fire,” Maddox said. “They don’t play, it’s the real thing.

The student fire teams hiked up to the wildfire and showed that they can dig a fire line and quell the blaze.

Maddox says the live fire exercise is critical in understanding what the real thing is like.

“It’s really good that they get to see the practical application of it and, as close as we can, simulate live fire because we obviously aren’t going to send people out to a wildfire without some experience.”

Because of the amount of people and amount of shifts, the whole course was treated like a type 3 incident– meaning a situation (wildfire) where initial action includes a significant number of resources and an extended attack is required for containment/control.

The field day is multiple agency event that is the cooperative effort of the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce Tribes, Idaho Department of Lands, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

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