Firefighters come to Caroline to hone skills

Firefighters from across Virginia carried chainsaws into the woods of Caroline County on Sept. 20 to learn how to fight forest fires better.

It was all part of the Eastern Virginia Wildland Fire Academy at Fort A.P. Hill. The four-day training school was put on by the Virginia Department of Forestry and involved nearly 20 firefighters and instructors.

Most of the students at the academy were members of volunteer fire departments and they took firefighting courses taught by certified instructors. The training involved classroom work and hands-on training in the woods. Some came from as far away as Blacksburg.

The state’s population growth has led to increased home construction in rural and suburban areas, resulting in more people and more property at risk.  Already this year, firefighters in Virginia have protected 47 homes and 239 other structures, such as barns, garages and sheds, from wildland fires.

As the threat of wildland fire continues to grow in Virginia, preparing people to fight these fires is vital to preventing the loss of lives, homes and other property.

On Friday, Kirby Woolfolk went into the woods with students Anne Ulrey, a forestry planner at A.P. Hill; Brandon Ferro; and Zack Addington and demonstrated safe ways to start a chainsaw. He showed them safe ways to cut down a tree  and even directed them to examine the sawdust after cutting a tree. Large granular sawdust is a sign that the chain is sharp, while fine dust indicates a dull chain. They also learned how to sharpen chains and how to use the saws to make fire lines.

Other instructors took other groups into the woods, which were partly burnt from previous training exercises.

Each student wore ear and eye protection, a hard hat, gloves and chaps to protect their legs.

“The Wildland Fire Academy is the most comprehensive training program we offer each year,” said State Forester Carl Garrison.  “The more techniques we can teach firefighters, the better prepared they will be to safely attack and suppress wildland fires.  And that will help reduce the loss of life and property.”

VDOF’s Director of Resource Protection John Miller said, “Because of population growth and development, the nature of wildland firefighting has changed.  We can’t take a bulldozer and simply plow a line around many of these fires like we used to do.  So, if we are to safely attack a wildland fire, we have to teach new ways of battling these dangerous blazes.”

Courses at the Wildland Fire Academy last week included: basic and advanced firefighter training; firefighting tactics; and chain saw operations.

Chainsaw training is useful for firefighters who help with disaster relief, particularly in the aftermath of hurricanes and ice storms, said Bill Perry, a forestry department instructor.

Other firefighting courses include bull dozer training, advanced chainsaw training and basic and advanced fire weather. When fighting a forest fire, firefighters must understand how the weather will affect the fires, Perry said.

The Eastern VA Wildland Fire Academy is a partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). These agencies work together to increase firefighter safety and enhance the fire protection capabilities of the state in accordance with the National Fire Plan.

Funding for the Wildland Fire Academy is provided by the USFS.

The academy is taught at Fort Pickett and Longwood University in June. The fall academy is usually in the western part of Virginia, and this was the first time for it to be in the eastern part. The fall academy will move to another location next year.

With nearly 16 million acres of forest land and more than 144,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide more than $27.5 billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth.

Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 1:24 pm