It was a gentle incline, not all that noticeable, but my shins were telling me a different story. My shins hurt like I just walked up 99 floors of a 100 story building. And I was only half way through the course. It’s the usual pain in the beginning. This is not my first time here.
I said to Frank who was walking with me: “my sister died of lung cancer two years ago and I do the pack test for her now, just to let her know I am still off the butts”! I looked up at the overcast sky and asked her if she was watching, to give us a little push to help us along. Frank was carrying a heavier pack and I figured he could use a little help too. He’s young and really didn’t need it. As for me, I’ll take all the help I can get. We crossed the finish line in 43 min, 10 seconds; we beat the clock once again.
The Work Capacity Test (WCT) or pack test is carrying a 45 pound pack on a three mile hike in less than 45 minutes to qualify for out of state forest fire crews. Every wildland firefighter needs to complete the pack test, every year, if they want to be an out of state firefighter. This endurance test separates the men from the boys, as they say. Your competition is with yourself! What it boils down to is that you need to be in shape, and after a long winter like this past one, that is not easy.
Fire fighters wanting to go out of state must complete both the refresher and the pack test, while in state fire firefighters just need the refresher course.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers teach the Annual Fireline Refresher training course throughout the state every year. Training for our area was held in Warrensburg on Saturday March 29 and April 3 in Ray Brook; both at the DEC regional headquarters.
This year’s Warrensburg fire crew involved thirteen of us. DEC Rangers included J. Giginto, B.Lomnitzer, B. Baldwin, M. Thompson, J. LaPierre, Lt. S. Preston, J. Maxfield, J. Martin, J. Deslauriers, and J. Haker. Volunteer fire department members included North Queensbury Firefighter Frank Denardo, Moriah’s Assistant Chief Ed Roberts, and Captain R. Redman. NYS DEC Fire Warden, Ed. Robbins, a 49 year veteran as a warden also attended. He said next year will be his last, with 50 years in. A Mineville Firefighter, Matt Vincent took his training in Ray Brook.
The course involves fire fighter safety as the number one priority. Fire fighter personal protective gear and equipment are covered, along with radio use. Training also includes fuel types, wind, temperature, relative humidity and other weather conditions that affect fire behavior. Topography such as aspect, slope, saddles and chimneys and all parts of mountainous terrain, are covered in detail to show how fire conditions can change rapidly on a fire scene.
This year’s priority was on L.C.E.S., which stands for Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes and Safety Areas.
Lookouts are the eyes of the crew. They are usually perched in a high spot where they can see all of the fire. They communicate back to the fire crews and the command center, what and where the fire is doing or going. Any fire changes can be spotted and relayed back to the crews immediately.
Communication is always the weak link in firefighting, whether it’s structural or wildland operations. A failure to communicate can lead to injuries or death. Keeping every firefighter informed to weather conditions, command strategy changes, fuel changes (as the fire progresses), terrain changes, and fire behavior is vital. Fire fighters have died when they were caught by surprise due to changing wind conditions, because no one notified crews of incoming storm fronts.
Escape routes are just that. They are preplanned, marked out routes that allow firefighters to escape to safety. If weather conditions such as a wind change occurs causing a change in fire behavior, the firefighters can follow the route to their preplanned safety area.
Safety areas are located where there is minimal, or no fuels that can burn, such as a log landing that has been cleared, a rocky area void of trees and bushes, a roadway, or in the black, a burned off area devoid of any fuels where fire fighters can wait out the fire without utilizing their fire shelter. Being “in the black” is the safest place to be. The safety area must be large enough to hold the crew and keep them safe, based on flame height and fuels involved in the fire.
Field exercises included the pack test plus the use of a fire shelter. Every firefighter must be able to deploy a fire shelter in a proper manner in seconds to pass the course.
The fire shelter is a last ditch, last resort safety effort that no firefighter wants to get into the position to use. If you need to deploy your shelter something went wrong; really wrong. All wildland firefighters carry an emergency shelter, Including engine, tender drivers and other heavy equipment operators.
In an emergency the firefighter can deploy their shelters by shaking them open and crawling inside. Once inside, they lay flat on the ground with their feet towards the oncoming fire. They keep their gloves, helmets and shrouds on to protect their head and their mouths are close to the ground where the air is cooler to help protect their airways. One breath of heated air can scorch the lungs and close off the airway.
Hugging the ground, you wait until the fire passes. You don’t leave your shelter until the fire danger is over.
The shelter is designed to reflect radiant heat away. The shelter is composed of three layers. An outside layer of foil reflects the radiant heat away, then there is fire resistant material and a second foil layer to further reflect heat away from the firefighter, inside the cocoon like shelter. These shelters are nicknamed “shake and bakes”, because you resemble a baked potato wrapped up in foil. The last thing any firefighter wants to do is bake in one though. This is serious business and I am not making fun of it.
Radios and computers have changed over the years, but it is still the yellow shirted, green pants and fire boot ground pounding grunts that put out the wildland fires and protect the surrounding houses in the event of a wildland urban interface fire.
The proud history and tradition of forest firefighting goes back to guys like Wagner Dodge, Ed Pulaski and even “Smokey the Bear” as a forest fire symbol. Numerous wildland firefighters have died in fires with names like Mann Gulch, the Dude Fire and the South Canyon fire. They are remembered no differently than the 343 Firefighters that died at the Twin Towers.
Firefighting is a dangerous job. Whether it’s a structural fire like the one in Boston where two Brothers recently lost their lives or the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots in the Yarnell Fire in 2013 in Arizona, the danger is always there.
We can’t be complacent and think it won’t happen to us; because it does! That is why we train and retrain and don’t stop training and learning.
This article is dedicated to Boston Fire Fighters, Lt Edward Walsh, Michael Kennedy and those 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots!
Up coming road trip events!
April 8, 2014 - Lake Champlain Trout Unlimited’s April meeting will feature Brad Young and Mike Calloway of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They will be presenting a “State of the Lake” report, with current and interesting info on lamprey control, salmon and Lake Trout population dynamics, and lots of good info for anglers and conservationist alike. Come hear them at the Gander Lodge Room, Gander Mountain Store, North Mall Plattsburgh at 7:00 pm. The meeting is free and open to all, so come and bring a friend!
April 9th, 2014 the Essex County Fish and Game League’s April meeting will be held at the Mt. Fay F&G Clubhouse which is at the Lewis Fish and Game, 7504 Stowersville Road. It is located a mile or so from the Northway. A guest speaker [Essex Co. clerk Joe Provoncha] will give a talk on pistol permits. A Steak and potato supper will be served at 6:30 by the Mt. Fay chefs, plus a maple syrup raffle.
The 2014 NNY Spring Sheep and Goat Week programs are as follows:
• April 8: Plattsburgh, 7pm, CCE Clinton County office, activities include CSI Sheep and Goat: Health From the Inside Out; register with Peter Hagar at 518-561-7450
• April 9: Canton, 7pm, CCE St. Lawrence County Extension Learning Farm, adult-level program with veterinarian Carolyn Pierce and CCE Livestock Specialist Betsy Hodge, activities include CSI Sheep and Goat: Health from the Inside Out; register with Betsy Hodge at 315-379-9192
• April 15: Burke, 1pm, Downing Acres Farm, hands-on activities include body condition scoring, health assessment, showing, possible necropsy, and more, evening videos/photos with information on performing necropsies and working with your veterinarian; register with Diane Dumont at 518-483-7403
• April 16: Canton, 1pm, CCE St. Lawrence County Extension Learning Farm, youth-level program, activities include body condition scoring, grading, conducting a physical exam, working with your veterinarian, showing, and more; register with Amy Sands at 315-379-9192.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.