Thursday, July 5, 2012

Learn to Burn

Jerramie, a member of the Raven 1 team, is trained to serve on wildland fire composite teams.  The fire teams are only a small fraction of the Corps, but their experiences and hard work ethic echoes throughout the region. Jerramie recounts his experiences during the intense week of Type-2 Wildland Firefighting training in North Carolina.

The first two days at fire training facilities in Kinston, North Carolina were long: waking up at 6 am and sitting in a class room until 4:30 pm. Although, at times we found it extremely difficult to stay awake, the information provided to us was invaluable. The main foundation of all the courses was personal safety, how to stay safe in any environment, and maintain situational awareness. Next we learned the different engine types, hose lays, and the chain of command in the wild land firefighting system, which starts with the lowest “rank” in the firefighting world – the firefighter type 2, or us - going all the way up to Incident Commander.

NCCC Atlantic Region Class 18 wildland firefighters at fire camp training in North Carolina

By the second day, at lunch time, we progressed to training exercises out on the field. We were all extremely enthused to go “play with fire,” or so we thought. And I have to say at the end of the day we were severely disappointed, and a few people were openly questioning they’re decision of joining. Instead of going out and fighting fire as we had expected, we spent the day digging line… and quite a bit of it. The learning experience was necessary, and it set the foundation for not only the next few days, but the rest of our fire careers. Line digging is the basic protection between the fire and the fuel it’s burning. The information was necessary, but it was still a hard break after our built up expectations.

Atlantic Region wildland firefighters in flame resistant Nomex with their pulaski hand tools which are used to construct firebreaks

However, the next few days of field exercises more than made up it. From learning how to take the weather, including temperature, humidity, and wind directions, we also learned hose lays, and how to deploy a hose. And then our anticipation was finally rewarded. The actual fire. We spent time with two instructors learning how to ignite and burn fuel using fusee’s, which are basically very hot road flares, and then, my personal favorite, drip torches! A drip torch is basically a mixture of diesel and gasoline fuels in a canister that is used to spread fire onto unburned fuel in a controlled environment. To prevent it from igniting uncontrollably, we used this to spread fire across a fairly large prescribed burn area, which was personally my high moment of the week.
The final day consisted of a thrilling mock fire, where we not only dug line around the perimeter of the fire, but also ran hose from the engine and sprayed the area down. We spend the day learning in an action-based environment, and readying ourselves for what is to come in the future when we do go out onto a phoenix team (Atlantic Region fire team composed of fire trained members).

Jerramie sharpens his fire rake

Overall we learned many things from fire training, but I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of team cohesion. We had the chance to work alongside many firefighters. I hope we will work together in the future, and to get to know them better. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience, and would suggest anyone coming into AmeriCorps to try out for the team. I look forward to the rest of the year not only serving with my amazing Raven 1 team, but also as a phoenix fire fighter.

Jerramie is currently serving on a fire composite team in Albany, NY. He will return to the Raven 1 team at the end of the fire team’s project in Albany. About 15% of NCCC Members are certified as wildland firefighters. The training NCCC members receive gives them experience for future fire and forest service careers. NCCC fire composite teams assist state and federal agencies with their fire management duties, including building firebreaks and conducting controlled burns to reduce available fuels, which mitigates wildfire disasters. Controlled burns are also beneficial to the ecology of the environment because it restores the natural balance of native species and eliminates invasive species. Teams are also available to assist with containing and suppressing wildfires.

For more news about the Atlantic Region's fire team, check out this article about their work in Suffolk, VA. This article is especially cool since the project sponsor says he is tracking about 20 NCCC alumni who have fire careers due to NCCC experience!
Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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