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Monday, July 18, 2016

Fire Staff Insure Preparedness at All Levels

Kamiah, Idaho (July 18, 2016) – The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests are fully staffed with 238 fire personnel; 197 of those are primary firefighters.  Impressive, but are they really ready?  To answer that question, Fire Staff on the forest spend time with fire personnel on each district, helitack crew, and area smokejumpers insuring that they are prepared and ready for the upcoming fire season. 

Preparedness reviews can cover a variety of topics such as an individual firefighter evaluation, individual training, communication of leader’s intent to all crew members, handling, use, and maintenance of tools, and the distribution and use of proper personal protective equipment. 

Brandon Skinner, Assistant Fire Management Officer on the North Fork Ranger District introduced his available staff to Assistant Forest Fire Management Officer, Kevin Chaffee during their recent review.  Not all members of the North Fork crew were available as some were already on assignment assisting firefighting efforts off forest. Those in attendance included three permanent and three seasonal employees.  All were returning crew members with the exception of Jeffery Vredevoogd, a rookie from Arizona.


Vredevoogd established the readiness of the North Fork crew by promptly answering a series of questions beginning with the timely completion of required training and finishing with a confident yes when asked if he understood the roles and responsibilities of leaders and crew members. 

Required training for a rookie firefighter begins with Guard School.  Guard school, a week long course, is the first opportunity for firefighters to learn and understand aspects of fire behavior, the role weather plays, how fire teams

are structured, and how incident command systems work.  Returning crew members and other district personnel who participate in fire suppression activities complete an annual refresher course.  Other required training includes First Aid and CPR training, the proper use of all personal protective equipment, and the use and handling of a variety of hand, firing, and power tools.

Every firefighter is issued a fire shelter, a device shaped like a dome or pup tent and used if a firefighter is trapped by a wildfire.  It is designed to reflect radiant heat, protect against convective heat, and trap breathable air.  During the review, crew members must explain techniques to inspect their issued shelter to insure, that if needed, it will perform as desired.  Firefighters must also describe or demonstrate how they would determine where to deploy their shelter.

Part of the preparedness review includes the proper storage and use of the variety of tools used by wildland firefighters.  This is the responsibility of all the district’s fire crew members.   During the review, crew members are asked to retrieve hand tools from the district’s cache and show that they are in good working order, demonstrate safe use and proper sharpening and maintenance.  An improperly stored tool or poorly maintained tool can be a hazard to the user and those around them.

It is the responsibility of supervisors to meet with employees and provide pre-season expectations.  During the review forest fire staff insure that crew member’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that all members understand the chain of command.  Defining expectations, roles, and responsibilities allows both the employee and the supervisor to focus on their respective tasks in an emerging incident.

Firefighter and public safety are the Forest Service’s top priority in wildland fire management and the agency’s goal is for every firefighter to come home safely from every assignment.  Insuring every unit is prepared for the upcoming fire season is another step to provide the tools and skills for success.