|Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Affairs Staff
Army Reserve firefighters filled their two weeks at Fort McCoy in June
with training, including assisting with a prescribed burn on South Post.
Army Reserve firefighters from
the 294th, 379th and 493rd Engineer Detachments (Firefighters)
help members of the Fort McCoy Fire Department and Forestry
Department with a prescribed burn.
Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, said the unit requested the
training. Even though the installation usually doesn’t do prescribed
burns in June, he was able to find a project to help restore and provide
proper respect to lands in the Ho Chunk sacred mound areas on Fort
The area previously was damaged by hail, and dying trees in a nearby
pine plantation were clear-cut to prevent a bark beetle infestation,
“The Soldiers helped us do about 10 acres of prescribed burning that
otherwise wouldn’t have gotten done,” Kerkman said. “This will help us
manage the area, and help return native vegetation to the area.
Eventually, we would return it to a native oak savanna plant community.”
The installation’s prescribed burn program, introduced in the late
1990s, helps control the spread of wild fires by reducing the amount of
vegetation, or fuel, available for the fires, Kerkman said. Prescribed
burning also helps control exotic plants.
Fort McCoy Assistant Fire Chief Ted Richmond said he provided
instruction along with Kerkman.
Fire Department personnel Bob Zay, Frank Schiebel, and Jon Hall assisted
with on-scene suppression. Brady Brever of the Fort McCoy Fire
Department organized all of the training the military firefighters
conducted during their training at Fort McCoy.
Sgt. Chad DeVolder, a crew chief from the 294th Engineer Detachment
(Firefighters) of Creston, Iowa, said the units participating in the
training also included the 379th and 493rd Engineer Detachment
(Firefighters) of Pascagoula, Miss.
“It’s not easy to get (prescribed) wild-land fire burning training at
home,” DeVolder said. “But our job entails almost every aspect of
firefighting so it has worked out well.”
“Normally, we get to do one or two training scenarios and then we are in
the classroom. This is great to get hands-on training. It prepares us
for future missions, deployments or contingency operations.”
Also during their training at Fort McCoy the firefighters participated
in structure-fire training at the burn tower at the Sparta-Fort McCoy
Airport and worked with the installation’s Fire Department on ladder
training, among other training, he said. The units also have
responsibilities to do aircraft rescue/fire control missions, so they
trained at Volk Field as well.
Maj. Calvin Bergenheier of the 416th Theater Engineer Command said the
command would like to coordinate regular firefighting training at Fort
“Fort McCoy has the facilities and the personnel to support the
training,” Bergenheier said. “We have enough personnel and assets close
by to hold the training here.”
“Firefighting has more skill qualifications than almost any other
military occupational specialty,” he added. “We need to ensure they’re
getting this training to retain their skills and keep them up-to-date.”
Spc. Luke Flanders, a firefighter with the 379th, said he was happy Fort
McCoy set up the training.
“I haven’t done this since tech school. We can continue to refine our
skills to fight fires,” he said.
Spc. Scott Cullen, a firefighter with the 294th, said the unit often
gets training in fighting structural fires, but it is more difficult to
get training in combating wild-land fires.
“We have to deal with the wind and the elements, and we get an
opportunity to use the equipment,” Flanders said.
Cpl. Michael Higgins, a safety noncommissioned officer for the 493rd,
said safety is paramount for firefighters. Higgins was responsible for
the overall safety, but the crew chiefs were responsible for the members
of their teams.
The approach helps build teamwork and communication, Higgins said.
Crews also can focus on what they’re going to do, plan to mitigate the
dangerous aspects of the missions and accomplish the missions safely.