PNF Firefighters Drill to Maintain Readiness

QUINCY, California – April 14, 2016 – As the weather gets warmer, firefighters’ focus begins to shift. Winters are typically full of prescribed burns and engine maintenance, but the first hint of spring signals a need to train for the upcoming fire season.

Seasoned firefighters and new recruits alike met recently at two of the many foundational training courses: Wildland Fire Training and the Region 5 North Zone Engine Academy. These two courses develop fundamental skills and hone firefighters’ alertness and on-the-job smarts.

“Firefighting is usually seen as a pretty physical job, but in my opinion, it’s about 90% mental,” said Aaron Grove, who has 22 seasons of firefighting experience and currently works as the forest fire training officer for the Plumas National Forest. “Being able to think on your feet and make quick, educated decisions is crucial in a wildland fire situation.”

Wildland Fire Training, or the “Basic 40,” was held at Feather River College during the institution’s spring break. The course combines classroom instruction with two exams and a field day that allows students to practice skills vital to their success on an actual fire line.

“We cut line and deployed practice fire shelters,” said Kyle McCammon, an intern with Plumas National Forest who attended the Basic 40. “It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and gave me a new level of respect for the job.”

Students who successfully completed the Basic 40 were encouraged to join the On-Call Crew, an annually updated list of standby firefighters who may be willing to assist during the busy summer months in support of permanent engine crews and hotshots.

While local students tackled the Basic 40, another group of firefighters traveled to Redding to participate in the Region 5 North Zone Engine Academy at the Northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center, or “North Ops.” These students came from ten northern California national forests, including the PNF, and a local fire department.

On April 12, in a closed course, cadets practiced evasive maneuvers, backing up and turning around in confined spaces and general handling of wildland fire engines. Students rotated through 10 stations throughout the day rehearsing pump operations, using the engines to draft water and handling fire retardant foam to put out fires.

"There's some accidents that are going to happen, so it's great to prepare the students for what they may encounter when we're out in the real world," said Dan Eiszele, an instructor at the course.

According to Grove, safety is the first priority in any wildland firefighting operation. Although fire is an unpredictable force of nature, the right training can minimize risk and ultimately save lives.

“It’s hard, it’s demanding, but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Grove. “We take pride in our job and constantly educate ourselves to work more effectively.”