173rd FW Airmen prepare for wildland fire season

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Adriana Scott
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing spent five days preparing to fight wildland fires and be ready if the Oregon Governor needs to call upon them this summer. The Oregon Department of Forestry trained 20 Airmen in the Red Card certification process May 3-7, 2023. 

“We are tasked with training Guardsmen on [Operations Plan] Smokey which allows us during high fire times to deploy the National Guard to help with fire assignments,” said Jake Barnett, the protection supervisor for ODF in Klamath Falls, Oregon. 

This initial training consists of 32 hours of in-class and hands-on instruction.

“One of our missions at the 173rd Fighter Wing is to serve Oregon,” said Col. Lee Bouma, 173rd FW commander.  “This means our Airmen are ready to assist the State during emergencies and natural disasters, and one of the common emergencies in the Pacific Northwest is wild fires.”

Operation Plan Smokey serves as a framework to provide extra resources to the state of Oregon from the National Guard when wildland fires exceed the capacity of ODF’s personnel and resources, according to the interagency agreement between the Oregon Military Department and the ODF.

“What we’re doing with them…is teaching them the basics to become an entry-level firefighter,” said Barnett.

Barnett noted that wildland firefighting is a very physical job that presents many opportunities for injury, and like most military trainings Operations Plan Smokey started out with a focus on safety first. Airmen are taught the importance of foot care and other potential medical concerns that could affect the individual’s health and safety.

To help reduce the risk of injury guardsmen are educated on fire behavior, tool handling, and communication. Basic fire behavior is taught to the Airmen in a classroom setting where they learn about environmental components such as fuels, weather, and topography.

Outside, ODF instructors demonstrated the uses of various tools and the “do’s and don’ts” of tool handling.  Additionally, they teach good communications practices to keep members aware of possible dangers such as the safe area around someone wielding an axe, or avoiding an area where burning trees could fall. 

The last day of training tested the Airmen on the skills they learned the days prior during a live-fire exercise. A field with sagebrush and tall grass was set ablaze and the team worked to contain it while coping with heat, smoke, and fatigue.

“It’s really cool to do a live burn,” said Senior Airman Alana McBride, 173rd Maintenance Group. “It definitely gets you more into it and realize the actual hard work that firefighters have to put in.”

With the wrap-up of this training, Oregon has nearly 20 new Red Card holders ready to help fight wildland fires for the state of Oregon. 

“To ensure your Oregon Guardsmen are ‘always ready, always there’, we trained three additional 22-person teams this year, creating a larger pool of individuals to pull from to meet our state’s needs,” said Bouma.