News: Wildland fire training at Camp Guernsey
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – With smoke drifting into Wyoming from fires burning in Colorado, wildland firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management wrapped up two weeks of fire training at the Rocky Mountain Engine Academy hosted at the Wyoming National Guard’s Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center.
The academy provides firefighters from Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota drivers’ training and work on various fire engines, said Jason Virtue, the academy’s incident commander, who also works for the forest service in Custer, S.D.
“They learn the skills in the class, then they go out into the field and apply it,” he said.
Camp Guernsey afforded the academy the classroom space and training ranges, including a driver’s course on the installation’s airfield. It’s the first of two wildland fire training courses being taught at Camp Guernsey in May and June.
The second is WYOFIRE, an interagency, hands-on training exercise with a focus on all aspects of the Incident Command System, incident management, and fire suppression and prevention. That course is slated for June 1-3.
“It seems like a lot of the training that we do is derived from the military,” Virtue said. “So, it’s a good fit for our firefighters to come to a military installation and see, you know, where it comes from and being able to apply it.”
The engine academy’s application of military training extended to the use of the camp’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle rollover trainer. The device is modeled after one of the military’s large troop transport trucks and allows troops to practice escaping from the vehicle if it were to rollover on its side or roof.
“It was our lessons learned portion of the academy,” said Aaron Thompson, the academy’s operations officer, who also works in the BLM office in Lander, Wyo. “It kind of brought why we are here at the academy, and it hit home with the students.”
Thompson, an engine captain himself, said the threat of rolling one of their trucks, loaded down with 300-500 gallons of water exists in rough terrain and as crews maneuver to fires along interstates.
“And really, when we’re traveling, we’re putting 30,000-40,000 miles per year on highways at high rates of speed,” he said. “They handle differently than the car that typical folks drive.”
The driving portion of the academy included multiple lanes at the Guernsey Army Airfield. Drivers navigated through cones, forward and in reverse, and, in some cases, making split second decisions about the route they choose.
“There’s a lot of student’s that think they are experts at driving and then there’s a dose of humility once they get behind the wheel and they have to drive through the cones,” Virtue said. “(In the) real world that could be a tree.”
Students also practiced preventative maintenance on their vehicles.
“Then when we respond to these wildfires, we want these pumps to be able to work and spray water the whole time we are on a fire, engaged,” said Thompson. “This piece of apparatus is a lot of money and it takes care of us and we have to take care of it.”
Other classes involved students learning how to work the pumps on the trucks, moving those engines into place and refilling their tanks with water.
Virtue and Thompson said they plan on returning to Camp Guernsey in 2013.