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April 27, 2012

News

Fire suppression training coordinates military, state efforts

Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

With the peak wildfire season quickly approaching, Fort McCoy personnel teamed up with members of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and a military aviation unit to hold a training exercise to coordinate joint actions in case the installation faced a large wildfire.

Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, said the training included a prescribed burn conducted on South Post. A timber sale was held in the area about five years ago to help restore the Fort McCoy Oak Barrens Natural Area, he said.
PHOTO: A helicopter drops water to help control a prescribed burn at Fort McCoy. Photo by Rob Schuette
A helicopter crew from the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment drops water to help control a prescribed burn at Fort McCoy.

This prescribed burn was to help clear logging slash from the area and control tree growth.

Prescribed burns will be held in the area every six to 10 years to help ensure it remains an Oak Barrens area.

Fort McCoy uses prescribed burns to help manage installation lands, provide safer training areas and to support wildlife and vegetation management. Natural Resource Branch, Colorado State University contract and Fire Department personnel conducted the burn.

Prescribed burns generally are done in the spring and fall seasons because weather conditions are most favorable at those times, he said.

“We had planned this prescribed-burn effort, so it was fortunate we could combine the other training with it,” Kerkman said. “We have worked with the WDNR with other training, including helicopter and plane training, during the past few years.”

James Barnier, a WDNR forest fire suppression specialist, said the WDNR provided an air-attack plane to provide reconnaissance and ground communications capability to support the training. Personnel from the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment provided helicopter support to drop water at strategic locations to help control the fires. The 1st, 147th is an Army National Guard unit from Madison, Wis.

“The 1st, 147th brought a great resource to the training that we don’t have otherwise,” Barnier said. “The Fort McCoy training may help establish the groundwork to make this asset available anywhere in the state it would be needed to fight wildfires.”

The dry weather in Wisconsin this year has raised the threat, and the potential for wildfires is very high, he said.

“This type of training is great because we can use our communications systems, coordinate where we would need the water to be dropped and work out any bugs in the operations,” he said.

Maj. Max A. Brosig, the executive officer of the 1st, 147th, said the unit often trains at Fort McCoy and Volk Field so they are familiar with the area.

The unit’s helicopters, UH60s or Blackhawks, used water buckets to dump water at selected sites in support of the burning efforts, he said.

Brosig said the troops can be used to support these types of missions if there is an emergency and a request is made to the governor of Wisconsin to provide assistance.

In addition to supporting the efforts to control wildfires in Wisconsin, Brosig said the training can help the unit prepare for potential contingency operations. During deployments in the past several years, unit members provided support to help to contain wildfires overseas, such as those occurring in Greece.

Tim Jorgensen, Fort McCoy Fire Department station chief, said the exercise was excellent training for fire department personnel. The department has several mutual-aid pacts, which allow them to coordinate support from outside agencies for an emergency situation at Fort McCoy and also provide such support off post, if requested.

The installation currently does not have a mutual-aid agreement with the WDNR.

“This training also could provide excellent support for our people,” Jorgensen said. “We could use them to drop water at strategic points to complement our fire breaks. That would help reduce the heat from the fires and also help to contain the fires so it would make it less dangerous and safer for our personnel if they were called upon to fight a fire.”

James Hubbard, the Fort McCoy airport manager/air space officer, said the 1st, 147th often flies into the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport during training missions, as do other military units with aviation assets, he said.

“This provides hands-on training for the unit to help them accomplish their missions,” Hubbard said. “It also helps us get the training accomplished before we would face a large-scale wildfire.”

Unit members also became familiar with how wind velocity and patterns might affect their mission support, from flying to the location to how to plan the water bucket drop to get the water to the right location, he said.

Unit members were impressed with the training they received and already have asked if there will be any additional opportunities available to support prescribed burning or related activities at Fort McCoy, Hubbard said.

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