Guest Column: Wildfire season is just around the corner, do we know what that means?

A firefighter works to suppress a wildfire during the Santo Domingo Fire in June 1956. (Photo/USFS, Kaibab National Forest and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest)

A firefighter works to suppress a wildfire during the Santo Domingo Fire in June 1956. (Photo/USFS, Kaibab National Forest and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest)

Editor's note:

The following column is from an excerpt that was published on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Facebook page. For those living in the west, wildfires have become a chapter in our lives that we live with each year. As fires continue to grow stronger and the season stretches longer each season, I encourage you to think of those who fight these fires and the families that are supporting them.

Fire season is just around the corner. I think we all know what that means, don’t we? Or do we? Hmmm.

Perhaps you should take a short walk (really short) in their shoes, read some of what they go through, see the pictures that show, in some small detail, their lives on a fire line. Try to understand their struggles, and the sacrifices they make to keep your family, our forests and wildlife, safe.

Your amazing men and women of wildland firefighting.

photo

Wildland firefighters carry hose to lay along a dozer line on the Stina Fire on Aug. 11, 2018. (Photo/USFS, Kaibab National Forest and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest)

Seasonal fire employees are returning and new hires are onboarding. If you are a returning employee you will be required to take a mandatory refresher training course. If you are new to the firefighting team, you will be required to take a basic fire course. Here are some of the other requirements you will have to meet, in order to become a member this elite team of amazing men and women.

1) The Forest Service Version of the Federal Interagency Wildland Firefighter Medical Qualification Standards establishes the minimum levels of physical and medical fitness for arduous duty that the agency has determined to be necessary for the safe and efficient performance of the job. The medical qualification standards demonstrate the agency’s strong commitment to employee health and safety, while maintaining mission integrity and safety to the public. Risk cannot be completely eliminated, but it can be reduced.

2) Work Capacity Tests are another crucial part of the Wildland Firefighter training. Here is an example of what they must go through for this test. Most wildland firefighters must meet minimum levels of fitness requirements for the type of duties they are assigned. Jogging during the test is not permitted. Altitude is factored into the test parameters.

Fitness requirement test description:

Arduous Pack Test 3-mile hike with 45-pound pack in 45 min. (Wildland Firefighters)

Moderate Field Test 2-mile hike with 25-pound pack in 30 min.(Safety Officers and fire behavior officers)

Light Walk Test 1-mile hike in 16 min no pack. (Office-type work with occasional field activity).

Just remember, both men and women must train and pass the same requirements and tests.

And that isn’t all. All firefighters must work out every day, for one hour. There are hazards from above as well. And let’s not forget the helicopter and slurry bomber pilots.

If you think it is tough now, take another trip back in time to when wildland firefighting was in its infancy. Some things have improved but the work remains the same. It is long, dirty, strenuous both (physically and mentally) and most of all extremely dangerous. Your family and friends worry about your safety, so it takes its toll on them, as well. It isn’t a picnic now and it most definitely wasn’t back then. Todays wildland firefighters could be on a fire for 14 days, plus travel. Long time to be away from family and friends, without communication with them. Fear and anxiety are ever present with them. They too need the support of the community and agencies involved.

As you will be able to tell from pictures, the firefighters of the early 20th century were working with the bare essentials and minimum tools at their disposal. They didn’t have the benefit of planes, GPS, detailed maps, modern communication equipment, Wildland firefighting training (if any at all), not even workman’s comp. None of it. Just tools of their trade and the will and guts to go out and do their jobs: put out a fire. Pretty basic and really scary.

These are the heroic men and women of the wildland firefighters. They, literally, put their life on the line for everyone and everything, and everywhere they are called to serve. They are deserving of our thanks and gratitude.

They all share the same mission: to help keep the public, our wildlife, and forests, safe from the ravages of a forest fire.

Thank you for all you do.

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