Aviation unit conducts fire-suppression training at Fort McCoy
Members of the National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Regiment of Madison, Wis., conduct a water-bucket drop at Fort McCoy, Wis.

FORT MCCOY, Wis. -- Fire-suppression training conducted by a Wisconsin National Guard unit at Fort McCoy in May helped to hone its military mission and positions the unit to support fire-control efforts statewide.

Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, said members of the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment of Madison, Wis., provided water-bucket support of a prescribed burn on South Post.

The unit conducted similar training here in April 2012.

Kerkman said this year's prescribed-burn scenario helped the installation to manage the Oak Savanna Natural Area by removing small trees and brush.

Charles Mentzel, the Fort McCoy forestry technician, said the first water-bucket drops of this year's scenario helped the installation extinguish burning snags and brush piles.

The training also built coordination between Fort McCoy personnel -- both Natural Resources Branch and Fire Department, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the Wisconsin National Guard.

"This year we took the training a step further," Mentzel said. "We created pretend 'spot fires' in front of the main fire. The pilots were instructed to locate and try to hit the spot fires. This is the sort of thing that would be expected from them while battling a real wildfire."

Prescribed or controlled burns are used to help control vegetation and to manage Fort McCoy lands, Kerkman added. Reducing vegetation can lower the fire danger in the future, he said.

Members of the 1st, 147th helped ensure the fire was put out after the targeted material was burned so the fire doesn't restart and spread as a wildfire, potentially endangering other land, including training areas.

"If a fire is reported in a training area, not only is that dangerous to troops, it means they have to stop training in that area until the fire is under control," Kerkman said. "They lose valuable training time."

James Barnier, a WDNR forest fire suppression specialist, said the helicopter crews of the 1st 147th, put their 2012 Fort McCoy training to good use when they supported fire-suppression efforts in mid May in Douglas County to help control a wildfire.

The fire damaged more than 8,000 acres before the 1st, 147th members helped to bring it under control, he said.

"The folks involved in fighting that fire didn't train at Fort McCoy this year," he said. "They helped ensure the other personnel in the unit received good training."

Maj. Dan Allen, the battalion operations officer, S3, for the 1st, 147th, said the unit trains at Fort McCoy frequently.

The unit benefits in two ways from the fire-suppression training.

First, the crews conduct training flights to Fort McCoy from their home station in Madison.

Second, unit members conduct a real-world mission that can have a profound impact.

"If we were called upon to support a fire-suppression mission at Fort McCoy or elsewhere in the state we will be ready," Allen said.

"This training helps prepare us for the fire-suppression part of the mission. We also are very familiar with Fort McCoy as we conduct training here on a recurring basis."

Unit members reached a high state of preparedness. During the training at Fort McCoy, the fire danger reached the very high category and burning bans also were issued throughout the state, according to WDNR reports, Allen said.

The training helps prepare unit members for flight missions they may receive because of wildfires, he said.

Barnier said having the unit trained to provide fire suppression support anywhere in Wisconsin is a good asset for the state to have available.

Page last updated Thu June 13th, 2013 at 00:00