Burning to Practice – A Fire Training Simulation on Ramshorn Ridge

field botanist wears proper firefighter personal protective equipment

Hannah Scrafford, field botanist, wears proper firefighter personal protective equipment. USDA Forest Service photo by Tina White.

Fire training included a simulated medical emergency

Fire training included a simulated medical emergency. USDA Forest Service photo by Tina White.

We’ve all practiced fire drills at work or school, but federal fire managers need practice, too. On October 18, Monongahela National Forest staff conducted an exercise simulating a prescribed burn in a remote area of Pocahontas County near Greenbank. This training allowed experienced employees from the fire program to work directly with those developing their skills in a controlled environment.

The training exercise was purposefully planned at the location of an earlier prescribed burn so staff could view the terrain and vegetation while discussing previous fire behavior and resources on-site. Prescribed burns, also known as prescribed fires, refer to the controlled application of fire under specific weather and fuels conditions to restore health to ecosystems.

Firefighting is exhausting work, with long hours in hazardous working environments, making training a critical element to completing the work efficiently and keeping staff safe. During the simulation, safety was at the top of everyone’s mind with staff wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment: hardhats, gloves, and other gear and protective clothing. A wildland firefighter's protective clothing is especially important for personal protection and is made of a fire-resistant material called NomexR. Fire shirts and jackets are colored bright yellow for easy visibility.

Once personnel were in position to mimic working a prescribed fire, another scenario was put before them – an incident within an incident. Staff were confronted with not only the mock fire, but also a simulated medical emergency happening at the same time. It is not uncommon that other emergencies, such as a medical emergency, can happen during a wildland fire. At the training, without the pressure of an actual crisis, staff were able to walk through the steps, continuing to manage the fire while also diverting staff to treat and evacuate an injured firefighter.

The Ramshorn Ridge training also provided an opportunity to complete position task books, a key component of the qualification process for some wildland fire jobs. These task books, combined with classroom and field training, provide an observable, measurable, and standardized means to evaluate and document trainee proficiency.

Success in working with fire requires training and practice. The Ramshorn Ridge exercise was one of many opportunities for Monongahela National Forest staff to gain supervised experience to ensure qualified personnel are available when needed.

Learn more about the Forest Service’s fire program at https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire.