Wildland firefighting exercise set for June 1-2

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A two-day wildland firefighting exercise is planned for June 1-2 in Port Ludlow at the currently closed Trail 9 golf course.

Keppie Keplinger, public information officer for Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue, pointed out that this will mark the third year the exercise has been conducted in Port Ludlow.

“Wildland firefighting is dangerous work,” Keplinger said. “It requires a set of skills and competencies that are obtained through passing educational courses and demonstrating proficiencies during training associated with various positions.”

Due to the nature of the training, vehicle movement, helicopter operations and a planned live fire evolution, the agencies involved are asking the general public not to plan to observe the training.

“This will be a dynamic training event and the need to ensure the safety of bystanders, balanced with training evolutions, would impede the training event significantly,” Keplinger said.

“It has never been more important to get firefighters trained to fight wildland fires in our area,” Port Ludlow Fire Chief Brad Martin said. “Personnel need to know how to work collaboratively between agencies, train to the same tactics and strategies, and adapt to a wide variety of fuel models, topography and conditions as seamlessly as possible.”

As in previous years, the training is slated to involve the deployments of basic hose and water systems, personal protective equipment and shelters, and nine-line safety systems.

Training on the first day of the exercise is expected to cover fire line creation and management, crew management and deployment, basic fire tactics, fire scene preservation and basic cause determination.

The second day of the exercise is expected to involve the DNR’s “Helitack” or helicopter-delivered fire resources, a system of using helicopters and their crews to perform aerial firefighting and other such duties, primarily as part of initial attacks on wildfires.

According to Keplinger, the exercise participants will learn the operation and safety of the Helitack, live fire management and mop-up, and training area management and preservation, followed by after-action briefings, task-book evaluations and demobilization procedures.

Keplinger explained the goal for firefighters is to earn their “Red Card,” which she said has been called “the driver’s license of wildland firefighting,” because like a driver’s license for a car, the Red Card serves as proof that a firefighter has completed all the coursework and training required to be on the fire line, and work in specific roles.

The Red Card also documents any additional positions a firefighter may be in the process of earning.

Two criteria are required, on an annual basis, to maintain a Red Card:

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher, a course that re-emphasizes the importance of safety on the fire line, and includes both a practice fire shelter deployment and a pack test.

The Incident Qualification and Certification System is the management system for certification that’s used by all federal agencies and most states, including Washington.

All Jefferson County fire districts use courses from the National Wildland Coordinating Group as part of their certification process to obtain a Red Card.

Keplinger credited National Wildland Coordinating Group standards with establishing common practices and requirements “that enable efficient and coordinated national interagency” wildland fire operations.

“These standards are interagency by design,” Keplinger said. “But the decision to adopt and utilize them is made independently by the individual member agencies, and communicated through their respective directive systems.”

To obtain a Red Card, a firefighter must demonstrate physical stamina, due to how strenuous wildland firefighting can be.

This demonstration is done through a three-mile hike, while lugging a 45-pound pack, that must be completed in less than 45 minutes.

There are three levels, depending on the job a firefighter is testing for, and primary firefighters are required to pass the most rigorous, arduous level of the pack test.

Agencies participating in the June 1-2 exercise include Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue, East Jefferson Fire Rescue, Quilcene Fire Rescue, Brinnon Fire, Discovery Bay Fire, the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Services, the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, North Kitsap Fire Rescue and Clallam County Fire Districts 2, 3 and 4.

Participants are preparing to camp overnight at the training site, in order to better prepare them to respond to extended fire operations.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the potential for more wildland fires statewide this year is high.

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