Course prepares group for battling wild-land blazes
Trial by fire
The next time there is a wildfire in Warren County, there will be many more people trained to deal with it.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) held a wildland fire training course for 42 people on Sunday.
Most of those trainees were volunteers already serving in a county fire department.
“Everybody that’s here is brand new,” DCNR Fire Forester Jay Lindemuth said. “They want to get into it.”
A new group of 40 is a significant increase in the number of wild-land firefighters in the county. Lindemuth said there were about 200 before Sunday’s training. “I’m really excited to see all the new people out here,” District Forester Cecile Stelter said. “These are the folks that are the first on the scene. They are going to be able to help their communities and each other.”
Firefighters can get stretched pretty thin during wildfire season.
“They need me,” Destiny Upton, a volunteer with the Scandia Volunteer Fire Department, said. “They need more help… every time.”
“They need manpower,” Debbie Jones of Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department said. “There are not enough certified wildfire firefighters.”
“I’ve had the ability to go out on a couple of brush fires,” Steve Schwinden, also of Clarendon, said. “I know the need for the volunteer service and I enjoy it.”
During the hands-on portion of the training, students had to respond to changing conditions.
“The area was not scouted properly,” Lindemuth said. “The fire got behind them and they had to deploy” emergency shelters.
Practicing with the shelters was one of four stations Sunday at Werner Park.
If their lives depend on it in a real fire, these wild-land firefighters will not have to fumble with a shelter for the first time.
The shelters are little bigger than the firefighters who shelter within them. They are reflective and reduce the temperatures within dramatically by reflecting radiant heat. The shelters also trap a pocket of air for the firefighter to breathe even when the air just on the other side of the foil is too hot or if smoke completely blankets the area.
Firefighters were surprised by the shelters. “It doesn’t feel like something you want to get into in the middle of a fire,” one said.
“It’s very small,” said another.
Firefighters who have to deploy shelters are often in small groups and are able to talk to one another as the fire rages around them.
That is a good thing for morale, which is good for survival, according to Stelter. “It’s a scary, scary thing. Just hearing someone else’s voice can keep morale up.”
At the other stations, firefighters learned about water and pumps as they relate to fighting a wildfire, mopping up, and creating a fire line. Firefighters carrying packs of water can only do so much against a wildfire. Putting it out isn’t often a possibility. Instead, firefighters must know how to create fire lines to contain the fire and to protect areas and assets.
The groups were assembled in units and squads, with leadership positions assigned to volunteer fire department members who will be able to take that experience and put it into effect on the ground, Lindemuth said. “This is the kind of role they’ll be playing. They’ll be in leadership roles out on local fires.”
DCNR holds the training in the county about once a year, Lindemuth said. Departments are notified through training coordinators and interested volunteers are encouraged to sign up.