Wildland firefighters train for upcoming season
Josh Winfree does the 3-mile pack test during a recent wildland firefighter certification. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
Keith Good Gun demonstrates the deployment of a personal fire shelter. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
Richard Grady, owner Grady Bunch LLC, shows off a counterfeit personal fire shelter that is reportedly being sold in Montana. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
| March 15, 2023 12:00 AM
Re-certification and training for contracted wildland firefighters for the upcoming fire season is underway.
Private heavy equipment owners are required to be re-certified on an annual basis before being allowed on any active fire or fire reclamation crews. These vehicles range from fire engines of all types, water tenders, chain saw crews and their equipment, lowboy semis, skidgines which are a combination of a skidder with a water tank installed, and a host of other systems used during fire season and their employees.
Part of the requirements include physical aptitude testing, including a 3-mile timed walk with a 45-pound pack for fire engine crews and a one mile timed walk for equipment operators.
The training company that has the task of training so many companies and their personnel each year is Grady Bunch, LLC. A 40-plus year veteran in the wildland fire industry with 20 of those years for the Montana DNRC, owner Richard Grady has seen and heard it all when it comes to what not to do in a dangerous wildland fire.
Grady’s training area encompasses Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Attendees were instructed on the removal of Covid restrictions on fires and were updated on deploying the required individual fire shelter. Grady also reviewed, what some firefighters call “The Firefighter Bible” or what the USFS calls, Incident Response Pocket Guide or Yellow Book “IRPG.”
This small handbook covers a host of fire related topics, from weather and fire patterns to emergency response procedures.
Grady covered the importance of vehicle inspections being performed before fire incident deployments. He said too many vehicles are not passing the pre-incident inspections that are required before arriving on each fire. Most problems are due to lack of proper maintenance.
He also informed the attendees about counterfeit personal fire shelter being sold in the Missoula area. The current cost of legitimate personal shelters are around $545 per shelter. The material supplied with the counterfeit shelters would endanger the firefighter in an emergency situation.
Grady discussed the lack of adequate vehicle inspections being required in Region 1, which covers Montana, Northern Idaho, North Dakota and a small northwestern section of South Dakota. He also mentioned new requirements that California is implementing. They are no longer allowing emergency fire equipment older that 2010 to enter the state. In the past California allowed fire equipment to enter the state under an emergency declaration.
Tempers flared when several equipment owners raised concerns about how the Forest is interpreting the contractual wording on the number of days equipment operators are able to work on each fire.
The Forest Service dispatches each type of equipment based on the equipment contractor’s bid price in their respective contracts — lowest bid price, first out.
Time on fire is based on 14 days on the fire line with two days off, followed again with 14 days on line and two off.
In the past, equipment operators followed those guidelines with operators staying on the same fires for 40-plus days. In the 2022 fire season the Forest Service started limiting contractors to shorter durations.
Northern Region Contractor Liaison Officer Brian Webber is the contact person for contractual issues.
Webber can be reached at the Region 1 office in Missoula at 406-329-4784 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Equipment contractors are finding it harder to be profitable with limited time on the fire line and then waiting for the next fire to be dispatched to. Contractors-operators across the country are saying it is getting harder to find people that are able to drop what they are doing and head for the next fire. The average age of fire crews is getting older, and the fires are getting bigger.