Whether they were ducking under fire shelters in the rodeo arena or learning how to operate a portable wildland fire pump along the Marys River, a group of 17 volunteer firefighter trainees spent Sunday morning in an outdoor classroom to prepare for the upcoming fire season.
Wildland fire frequency and intensity have increased in recent years and it could be all hands on deck if a blaze breaks out. Tom Miller, Philomath Fire & Rescue chief, believes the area could see wildland fires this summer.
“I am a little concerned due to the lack of rain … especially through the month of April it was very light and then the forecasts have not been very promising as far as being wet,” Miller said. “So yeah, I am concerned. I think this year has the potential to be a problem, but hopefully we’ll get some more rain between now and July.”
Volunteers from Philomath, Monroe, Adair and Kings Valley-Hoskins participated in the basic wildland firefighting school’s field day, which featured five stations that they rotated through covering various components of a wildland fire scenario.
The firefighter trainees have been covering just about every possible topic since the group started back in October, Miller said.
“That means they’ve gone through basic structural firefighting and most of them took an EMS (emergency medical services) type of class over the winter,” Miller said. “And now in the spring, we focus on the wildland.”
The field day’s five stations included instruction on fire shelter deployment, using hand tools and digging a line, setting up a portable wildland fire water pump, “pump and roll” tactics and strategies and performing progressive hose lays.
“The intent of the stations is to just give them a broad overview of different things,” Miller said. “It’s one of those things that we’ve got to be prepared and I’m very excited that we’ve incorporated the wildland end in the basic firefighting school because we definitely need it.”
The station that might challenge trainees the most might be the wildland fire water pump, Miller said.
The Mark 3 pump is actually a pump that forestry provides that we use in the field,” Miller said. “We essentially hook up sprinklers to it and we put it in a river or a lake or a swimming pool or whatever. And then we can leave it unmanned as the fire comes through to protect the structure or whatever.”
Miller called it some of the most important material that they would learn.
“The reason we like to teach that one is because it’s very finicky and you don’t get to touch it very often but it’s really easy to flood and not start,” Miller said. “So if you don’t know what you’re doing — especially in a pressure situation — it can be very interesting.”
The pump and roll station involved trainees on a rodeo grounds road walking in front of and alongside a truck while flowing a hand line. Another stop for trainees required some muscle with using hand tools to build a fireline.
At the shelter deployment station, the instructor tested the trainees on speed and correct form with the tops and sides.
“What we typically do with that is we actually use a fan, so they can simulate having some winds and such,” Miller said. “They have to practice putting it on, making sure everything’s all tucked and taking stuff with them in the tent and such.”
The progressive hose lay is a common training exercise that is useful in wildland environments.
“The fire truck will be stationary, so it would be like going into the woods where you couldn’t drive,” Miller said, “and they will just start deploying hose lines left and right and practicing putting those in.”
As Miller said, the area could be at risk for wildland fires.
“My first year here back in 2016, it was very wet and you didn’t send anyone anywhere for the most part,” Miller said. “It seems like it’s just gradually dried out since I’ve been here; this is my sixth year.”
In the immediate vicinity, Miller estimated that Philomath Fire & Rescue has about 30 firefighters that can respond to a wildland fire.
“Keep in mind that the bulk of those are volunteers and they have other jobs and aren’t necessarily around, especially during the day,” Miller said. “But we definitely have some folks that can come and respond if needed. That’s part of the reason why we’re doing this training.”
Instructors at Sunday’s training included Trent Tegen, Aine Smith, Viktor Bovbjerg, Cody Eddy and Elliot Lowry.
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