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Idaho State News

Class is in Session for First-Year Firefighters

(KAMIAH, ID) – Every year, first-year wildland firefighters are required to go through a week-long training, where they learn the basics of fire behavior, fire suppression, water handling techniques, and how to manage for safety. This year, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest hosted Basic Guard School for all first-year wildland firefighters from state, tribal, and federal agencies in our region. Between Monday, June 3, and Friday, June 7, firefighters attended basic guard school at both the Kamiah Middle School and Kamiah High School, where they camped out and were provided meals in the “fire camp” fashion.

Eight first-year wildland firefighters wiggling their way inside a large, body-sized practice fire shelter during a MOCK fire scenario.

Firefighters quickly deploying practice fire shelters, ensuring that their feet are facing the “head of the fire”.

Each day, students attended class between 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM. Between Monday and Wednesday, firefighters were taught the skills and traits required for starting and utilizing Mark 3 pumps, understanding the differences between indirect and direct fireline construction, and using various fire tools and equipment. Additionally, firefighters were also given lessons on how to balance the intense demands of the job physically and mentally, fire shelter deployment, about the wildland-urban interface, and radio usage and communication. Between classroom instruction and hands-on exercise, firefighters spent a total of 35+ hours working towards the most exciting part of the week: field day.

A firefighter running back to his team to deliver the one-inch hose he has that will help assemble a Mark 3 pump. Various reducers, nozzles, gated-Y's, and hose lay on an orange tarp.

One firefighter running back with the correct piece of equipment during a Mark 3 pump assembly relay race.

On Thursday, June 6, five buses transported 64 firefighters to Lolo Campground, where firefighters spent half of the day between a handline construction station and a water handling station. At each station, firefighters were presented with MOCK fire scenarios, practice scenarios that prepare firefighters for very realistic situations they may encounter on the job. Here, they had to react by either constructing handline to remove available fuels between the MOCK fire and any unburned fuels or by using a Mark 3 pump to get water from the creek to their MOCK fire scenario. Firefighters rotated through the two stations and spent approximately three hours digging handline with various hand tools and another three hours setting up hose-lays that extended a few hundred feet from the creek. By the end of the day, firefighters were able to experience critical components of the job they will be completing this summer, whether that be within the state of Idaho or somewhere else nationally!

A large group of wildland firefighters work together to connect hose to a previously installed hose-lay to continue bringing water further along their MOCK fire's edge. One firefighter is shown spraying water from a hose that was already set up.

After assembling a Mark 3 pump at Lolo Creek, firefighters built a progressive hose-lay that extended from the creek and a few hundred feet to the neighboring campsite where their MOCK fire was established.

Ryan Nuxoll, Moose Creek Ranger District’s Assistant Fire Management Officer and this year’s Basic Guard School coordinator, shared the importance of first-year firefighters going through guard school, “It is important that we put on basic guard school locally for the first-year firefighters so that we can give them a solid training foundation with experienced instructors, who will help set them up for their first season as a wildland firefighter. It’s also important that we work together with our partners to have Guard School locally, so that it gets us collaborating early in the season to coordinate efforts that will help the next generation of firefighters.”

Five wildland firefighters use different hand tools to dig eighteen to twenty-four inch handline in an area that has lots of dead and downed fuel from a previous fire scar.

Firefighters work to build direct handline along the MOCK fire’s edge during their scenario. First-year firefighters spent three hours digging line and communicating with one another on the quality of the handline and the MOCK fire’s behavior.

Nuxoll also shared the key takeaways that he expects this year’s “graduating class” of wildland firefighters to walk away with: “This year’s basic guard school attendants were given professional training on how to keep themselves and each other safe this season. Remembering that firefighter safety and well-being is one of our core values will be crucial to the decisions they make during their first fire season and future seasons. I hope they build relationships with fellow first-year firefighters within other districts and agencies, so when they meet on a fire this season, they know one another and can get right to work. Finally, I hope they understand the ‘why’ we do what we do for our communities on fires throughout this fire season.”

As firefighters continue to prepare themselves for the upcoming season, we wish all firefighters a safe fire season! If you are interested in pursuing a career in wildland fire, please contact MJ Miller, 208-935-6134, for more information on the federal hiring timeline and process.


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