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Moody hosts Wild Land Firefighting course

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Natural Resources Section of the 347th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Environmental Flight combined efforts with the Georgia Forestry Commission recently to conduct the first Basic Wild Land Firefighting class at Moody.

The course consisted of both classroom and field exercises, and was taught by six instructors from the GFC. Thirteen civilians from the 347th CES, local fire departments, and Barksdale Air Force Base, La., attended the four-day class.

“Typically, the course is held twice a year at the Georgia Forestry Training Center in Forsyth, Ga., and its costly to send people up there for training,” said Bruce Connell, base forester and course instructor. “The class is designed to prepare our regular military and civilian employees on the aspects of fighting wildfires and also assist in helping our prescribed burning program.”

The field training aspects of the course focused on the variables that make wild land firefighting different from structural fires, said Mr. Connell.

“(During the field training) the students received exposure with lighting a fire using a torch and seeing what weather can do with the fire’s behavior,” said Mr. Connell. “They also got to use certain tools to construct a fire break and back fire to stop a wildfire. This is one of the best means of learning how to control a wild fire.”

Creating a back fire consists of burning a line of brush near a natural opening, like a small field or road. Once the fire reaches the burned line, it has nothing to feed from and stops, said Mr. Connell.

Prescribed burning was another important part of the training, and is an imperative lesson for Moody firefighters, he said.

“Our prescribed burning program improves the wildlife habitats on Moody and reduces the potential for a wildfire,” said Mr. Connell. “The 820th Security Forces really enjoys that we conduct these fires because they can (train) without having to fight the underbrush, so it makes their job easier. (The prescribed burning) was probably the most important aspect of the class considering we are on a military base.”

Many of these techniques were new to the students, and it gave them a different perspective on fires.

“I’d received prior firefighting training when I was on submarines in the Navy and while working at nuclear power plants and thought I had a pretty good handle on it,” said Pat Tilson, 347th CES environmental compliance chief. “The information we received proved otherwise, (and taught that) wild land fires are a completely different animal and require a new set of skills. Being able to see the process from a different perspective gives me the tools to work safer and make a larger contribution.”

The classroom segment of the course included an introduction to fire behavior, fire safety, fire suppression techniques and the incident command system.

“The incident command system is a chain of command for firefighters,” said Mr. Connell. “It includes (regular) firefighters, squad bosses and crew bosses.”

Students received a written test at the end of the course. Upon course completion and a physical examination given by the GFC, students are qualified to fight forest fires on private, state and federal lands. They also get the opportunity to take more advanced wild land firefighting courses and move up the incident command system.

All students passed the course, and many felt it was invaluable training to
Moody’s firefighting mission.

“The course was very effective in teaching wild land firefighting techniques,” said Rebecca Smith, 347th CES environmental restoration biologist. “Wild land fires can behave very differently than structural fires so it is important to have Moody personnel trained to deal with wild land fires that occur on base. The course was definitely a worthwhile experience.”