By Marie Berberea, TRADOC February 21, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 21, 2013) -- Hundreds of firefighters from across Oklahoma gathered Feb. 15-17 for the third annual Destry Horton Wildland and EMS School. They chose Fort Sill's Firing Point 56, Feb. 17, as the blank sheet of paper which they used to get on the same page.
"When we are called upon to work together on the big fires we already have the same skill sets to fight the fires," said Clint Langford, Fort Sill, Okla., fire chief. "We have that same trust and assurance that the fellow firefighter that you're working beside has the same skills and you can go and attack that fire."
The school is named in honor of Destry Horton, a career firefighter with the City of Chickasha Fire and EMS, who was fatally burned when his firetruck became stuck in the midst of a wildfire.
"Our mission is to provide the necessary and requisite training and skills to the firefighter to prevent any loss of life of our firefighters so we can go out and protect the communities we serve," said Langford.
While the open land looked like less of a threat than a structure fire, Carl Tessreau, Monkey Island Fire Department, said the threat was in fact, all the open land.
"It moves fast. It'll run over you. With wildfires there's nothing out here, like in this open area, to stop it. We have roads and things we use as natural breaks, but with the wind speeds and the drought conditions for the last few years, it doesn't care if the roads are there or not. It just jumps."
The firefighters skill levels ranged from the more experienced fire chiefs, to those just joining the ranks. Each firefighter went through the necessary classroom training before heading to the prairie for the real thing.
"We're teaching these guys to fight these as safely as possible with as little water as possible and to take care of themselves," said Tessreau.
A three-person team handled the fire line by dispensing a hose, clamping it and aiming at the head of the fast spreading fire. Black trails showed their hard work while a crew of firefighters quickly moved behind them to stamp out any hot embers.
"It's an adrenaline rush. been doing this for 10 years. Learned a lot of new techniques, we don't generally get to do this we normally use a truck. So we learned a lot," said Justin Chavez, Frederick Fire Department firefighter.
"Just like the Soldiers come here and do live firing operations where they're shooting howitzers and artillery, firefighters are coming here and they're doing the real thing. We do it in an environment that is safe and secure so we can get the most realistic training so these guys can go back to their individual departments and be safe and effective," said Langford.
Fort Sill's annual prescribed burn plan determines what areas should be burned out of necessity, whether to prevent a fire from getting off the installation, for range operations to facilitate military missions or to benefit natural resources.
"As we've learned from history the Native Americans knew that natural fire was healthy for the environment. They figured it out 200 to 300 years ago, and we're still doing the same thing today," said Langford.
Langford said the exercise also had an added benefit for Fort Sill because the firing point needed to be burned to facilitate a new military mission.
Oklahoma State University provided the training and has been the state training agency for Oklahoma since 1937. The university holds 2,000-3,000 training events a year, depending on funding.
"We do several collaborative events with agencies such as Fort Sill, and career-techs and major metropolitan departments throughout the state," said Caroline Reed, Fires Service Training assistance director.
Fort Sill provided logistical support for the event which was hosted by the Lawton Fire Department.