Fighting Fires Together

105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Story by Cpl. Kathryn Mazos

Date: 09.19.2019
Posted: 10.17.2019 10:42
News ID: 347990
Fighting Fires Together

SALINA, Kansas. – Soldiers and Airmen from the Kansas National Guard partnered with the Kansas Forest Service and fire departments from all over the state to participate in a Wildland Fire Fighting exercise Sept. 19. The exercise was the end of a week-long training event hosted by the Kansas National Guard’s Director of Military Support Office, which included classroom instruction followed by a hands-on test leading into an exercise.

“As a result of the fires that occurred in 2016 and 2017, we looked at that and determined there were things the National Guard could do,” said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general of Kansas. “We started building additional capability that was non-existent and increased that capacity.”

Forty-four Soldiers and 15 Airmen from over ten different units attended the training. All participants came from different civilian careers, as well as some working full-time as Kansas National Guard technicians. Master Sgt. Michael Baker, who is the assistant fire chief for the 190th Air Refueling Wing’s fire department, said that training such as this is vitally important because not all fires are the same.

“The biggest difference (between structure fires and wildland fires) is the weather,” Baker said. “The weather affects the wildland fires in a different way. Today, it’s windy. That creates much different issues out here versus a fire on a structure.”

The training was broken down into three phases: Red Card classroom certification, field training, and the final integrated exercise. The Red Card Qualification is a 40 hour, nationally recognized course on Wildland Firefighting Standards. According to Capt. Hans Stephensen, the director of military support project officer, who helped coordinate the week-long training, the Red Card Qualification is no simple task.

“The study includes the basics of fire behavior in outdoor environments, operating wildland equipment in direct and indirect fire attacks and survival techniques,” said Stephensen.

A few of the skills the Soldiers and Airmen had to master included; donning a fire shelter in the field, attaching and hooking up hoses to various water trucks, and various basic fire fighting techniques.

For the final and culminating exercise at the end of the week, participants demonstrated their new-found skills with the help of their instructors and executed a seamless operation using a controlled burn. Each participant played a different role in the integrated exercise, and there were many moving pieces towards combating the open flame.

Pilots and crewmembers from 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation demonstrated the capabilities that the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters bring to the fight, by performing Bambi Bucket drops of water on the fire. Meanwhile, on the ground, Soldiers and Airmen walked alongside a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) carrying anywhere from 200 to 400 gallons of water and fighting the fires in the brush and grass. The two teams working together proved to increase lethality in fire fighting capabilities.

“The central focus now is to build up a robust enough capability to enable the Kansas National Guard to support multiple locations in the midst of a wildland fire emergency across the State,” said Stephensen.

Kansas is no stranger to wildland fires with the 2016 Anderson Creek fire burning nearly 400,000 acres of forest, around 16 homes, and 25 structures to the ground. The efforts of local fire departments and emergency management were very closely exhausted. The training held at Salina will allow the Kansas National Guard to be another asset to help when disaster strikes.

“When you look at wildland fires, we (the Kansas National Guard) do have a lot to offer,” said Lt. Col. Larry Leupold, Kansas Army National Guard. “A lot of our local fire departments rely on volunteers. It’s been getting harder to get those volunteers, but we have a lot of manpower, so we can come in and help them in that way.”

Everything from the classroom lessons to the planning of the multi-agency exercise was done in collaboration between the Kansas National Guard, the Kansas Forest Service, Kansas Division of Emergency Management, and the Kansas Fire Marshal’s office. Each member of the team has the same goal: help the citizens of Kansas in their time of need.

“Anytime you can build a bigger force, especially for wildland fires is a great opportunity [for Kansas guardsmen],” said Bryce Haverkamp, eastern district fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service. “They [the participants] want to help people in Kansas, and this is a way that they can help those communities to provide a resource that we sometimes don’t have.”

“This is who we are as the Kansas National Guard; we build readiness and lethality for the war fight, but we also build readiness and proficiency to protect our families here in Kansas,” Leupold said. “It starts right here in our local communities, so we want to be prepared.”