The folks behind the smoke: Learning to fight forest fires

There's plenty to learn and gear up for

Wildland firefighter training

POWELL BUTTE, Ore. - For the women and men interested in becoming wildland firefighters, the completion of guard school is essential. 

This week, the future firefighters are taking part in classroom and field activities at the BIAK Training Center in Powell Butte, designed to teach students about fire suppression, techniques, fire behavior, fire ecology and safe navigation.

They're also learning how to operate engines, pumps, hoses and do line construction.

"This is their first chance to learn what it's about, incident command system, communications, how to use the tools and get that first taste of what it's like before they go out and actually fight a fire," said Tim Hoiness, training safety manager for the Central Oregon Fire Management Service. 

The students come from across Oregon, and all have different reasons for joining guard school.

"I wanted to get into it because it's a public service thing," student Asa Fields said Wednesday. "You see the crews coming in, the tankers coming into town, smoke in the distance. You have all these people doing these cool things and I just wanted to be more involved in it."  

Along with spending a week of intensive training with their fellow classmates, the students also live in tents near the training center.

"We're doing a lot of team building. There's great camaraderie between everyone here," said student Jess Williams.  "They've taught us a lot about how fire starts and progresses and the way that we can keep each other safe."

Thursday is live-fire training day, to be held near Sisters. Hoiness said it's often the highlight of the week.

"For somebody whose never seen fire, just out on the landscape moving around, it doesn't take much to get much to get pretty excited about it," he said.  

"So we always try to emphasize when we do a practice fire for these folks, it doesn't take much, and you can learn a lot from it," he said. 

Once the students graduate from guard school on Friday, they will officially be certified to work as wildland firefighters.

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