Training for wildland fires

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Exercise drills firefighters in fire lines, evacuation, communication

By Sandy Barnes

Wearing bright yellow shirts and jackets, firefighters stood listening to a briefing from Evergreen Capt. Scott Martin in the early-morning chill on Saturday.


“When we’re fighting fires, put fires totally out,” Martin told the 30 Evergreen and Foothills fire department volunteers assembled for a wildland fire training exercise.

“We’re running this as a fire scenario for a lightning strike,” said Martin. “Our spread potential is high for today. The conditions are what they are.”

The day-long training at the 600-acre DeDisse ranch off Upper Bear Creek Road involved much more than extinguishing fires in slash piles that were ignited for an exercise.

Firefighters practiced digging fire lines, safe evacuation from an approaching wildland fire, hauling water and communication — an essential component of effective incident management.

“Communication is always a huge issue,” said Stacee Montague, an Evergreen firefighter and the department spokesperson. 

Montague and the squad bosses for the operation were carrying Bendix King radios with extra batteries so they could stay in communication with one another. 

“When you go in, stay live,” said Jeff DeDisse, an Evergreen Fire Protection District board member and firefighter involved in the operation.

Before beginning the exercises, the firefighters took notes in the incident-response pocket guides they were carrying.  They also recorded information on the initial attack incident action plan, describing the size, behavior and location of a fire. 

After dividing into squads with assigned leaders and receiving further instructions, the volunteers walked single file into a forested area, where they began digging a fire line 3 feet wide. The width of the fire line is determined by the height of the fire, explained Martin. 

Working together, the firefighters used an assortment of tools to expose the earth and create a break for an advancing wildland fire.

“Watch your spacing, group,” said a squad boss to his team. “A couple of hits, and bump it up,” he added as the firefighters progressed up the line.

He also cautioned the firefighters to watch for falling trees and patches of snow that could be slippery.

While digging the wide but shallow line, the volunteers followed orange flagging that had been placed along the path. In an actual incident, a forward observer would go in and place the flags for the line, said Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege.

Specially trained firefighters used chain saws to cut snags and trees in the path. If left in place, they could provide fuel for the fire, said Weege.

During an exercise in which firefighters practiced escaping from a wildland fire, they quickly headed back to the meadow on the property.

Later they practiced connecting hoses and pumping water from a creek to the scene of a fire.

“We need to move quick on this,” said Martin.

Other firefighters carried 5-gallon containers of water on their backs to extinguish fires burning in slash piles. After dousing the fires with water, they used tools to put them completely out. 

Getting water to wildland fires can be a major effort, said Weege. In many instances, firefighters use tools to throw dirt over a blaze and extinguish it, he said. Although the fire department has tenders to haul water to wildland fires, some areas are so remote and inaccessible that they can’t get to them, he said.

Throughout the day, leaders performed weather checks to determine the speed and direction of the wind.

Before making a final decision on the training, Weege said, weather conditions were carefully assessed. The wind was calm on Saturday morning, and there was moisture in the ground from recent snowfall.

“It’s a good day to do this,” said Weege.


Contact Sandy Barnes at  HYPERLINK "mailto:sandy@evergreenco.com" sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.