Military firefighters hone skills with Fort McCoy training
June 23, 2011
FORT McCOY, Wis. -- Army Reserve firefighters filled their two weeks at Fort McCoy in June with training, including assisting with a prescribed burn on South Post.
Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, said the unit requested the training. Even though the installation usually doesn’t do prescribed burns in June, he was able to find a project to help restore and provide proper respect to lands in the Ho Chunk sacred mound areas on Fort McCoy.
The area previously was damaged by hail, and dying trees in a nearby pine plantation were clear-cut to prevent a bark beetle infestation, Kerkman said.
“The Soldiers helped us do about 10 acres of prescribed burning that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten done,” Kerkman said. “This will help us manage the area, and help return native vegetation to the area. Eventually, we would return it to a native oak savanna plant community.”
The installation’s prescribed burn program, introduced in the late 1990s, helps control the spread of wild fires by reducing the amount of vegetation, or fuel, available for the fires, Kerkman said. Prescribed burning also helps control exotic plants.
Fort McCoy Assistant Fire Chief Ted Richmond said he provided instruction along with Kerkman.
Fire Department personnel Bob Zay, Frank Schiebel, and Jon Hall assisted with on-scene suppression. Brady Brever of the Fort McCoy Fire Department organized all of the training the military firefighters conducted during their training at Fort McCoy.
Sgt. Chad DeVolder, a crew chief from the 294th Engineer Detachment (Firefighters) of Creston, Iowa, said the units participating in the training also included the 379th and 493rd Engineer Detachment (Firefighters) of Pascagoula, Miss.
“It’s not easy to get (prescribed) wild-land fire burning training at home,” DeVolder said. “But our job entails almost every aspect of firefighting so it has worked out well.”
“Normally, we get to do one or two training scenarios and then we are in the classroom. This is great to get hands-on training. It prepares us for future missions, deployments or contingency operations.”
Also during their training at Fort McCoy the firefighters participated in structure-fire training at the burn tower at the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport and worked with the installation’s Fire Department on ladder training, among other training, he said. The units also have responsibilities to do aircraft rescue/fire control missions, so they trained at Volk Field as well.
Maj. Calvin Bergenheier of the 416th Theater Engineer Command said the command would like to coordinate regular firefighting training at Fort McCoy.
“Fort McCoy has the facilities and the personnel to support the training,” Bergenheier said. “We have enough personnel and assets close by to hold the training here.”
“Firefighting has more skill qualifications than almost any other military occupational specialty,” he added. “We need to ensure they’re getting this training to retain their skills and keep them up-to-date.”
Spc. Luke Flanders, a firefighter with the 379th, said he was happy Fort McCoy set up the training.
“I haven’t done this since tech school. We can continue to refine our skills to fight fires,” he said.
Spc. Scott Cullen, a firefighter with the 294th, said the unit often gets training in fighting structural fires, but it is more difficult to get training in combating wild-land fires.
“We have to deal with the wind and the elements, and we get an opportunity to use the equipment,” Flanders said.
Cpl. Michael Higgins, a safety noncommissioned officer for the 493rd, said safety is paramount for firefighters. Higgins was responsible for the overall safety, but the crew chiefs were responsible for the members of their teams.
The approach helps build teamwork and communication, Higgins said.
Crews also can focus on what they’re going to do, plan to mitigate the dangerous aspects of the missions and accomplish the missions safely.