Fort McCoy News May 09, 2014

Federal, state, post agencies partner for fire training

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Air-attack planes circled overhead, firefighters on the ground controlled fires, and helicopters carrying giant buckets dropped water to douse the flames below.

The movie-like scene on Fort McCoy's South Post was a cooperative training venture.

Photo 1 for fire training article
A Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment of Madison, Wis., carries a giant-sized water bucket to a douse a fire near Range B-27 as part of fire-suppression training.

Fort McCoy's fire and forestry officials, members of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and aircrew and Blackhawk helicopters from the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment of Madison, Wis., teamed April 23 to complete prescribed burn and conduct fire-suppression training on Range B-27.

Fort McCoy was the right place to host the cooperative effort, said James Kerkman, installation forester for the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Natural Resources Branch (NRB).

"It's perfect here," he said. "We are a military training base, have the facilities to support the helicopters, and the land base to do the training," Kerkman said. "The water source also is on the installation, so helicopters didn't have to cross any public roadways while carrying water to the fire."

Prescribed burns typically are completed every spring and fall through a combined effort of several post organizations, including DPW, the Directorate of Emergency Services and the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

This effort was supported by those same agencies, and the WDNR provided two air-attack airplanes to provide reconnaissance and ground communications capability, said WDNR Forest Fire Suppression Specialist James Barnier, who also was on scene for the training.

"An air-attack plane manages the air space, or fire traffic area, over a fire," Barnier said.

Photo 2 for fire training article
Fort McCoy Firefighter Matt Steele keeps watch over a prescribed burn near Range B-27 as part of fire-suppression training.

In this training, WDNR pilots communicated with the helicopter pilots in determining their route through the fire traffic area to drop water on the fire. Barnier said safety is paramount to success, and prepares them for future contingencies.

"This training is very important from our perspective because it helps us to be prepared when emergencies happen," Barnier said. "The cooperation in doing this training is very well appreciated."

Helicopter units such as the 1-147th train here for their military mission, and could provide a quick response to suppress wildfires, Kerkman continued. "Additionally, with this training, the helicopter pilots become familiar with our area and where to get the water on post to douse any potential fires."

Firefighter Matt Steele from the Fort McCoy Fire Department was one of several people on scene for the controlled burn at B-27. Because of its remote location, he and other firefighters used all-terrain vehicles equipped with portable water tanks and hoses to keep the controlled burn in check.

Steele said he appreciated being a part of the multi-agency training effort.

"It's a good experience to see how federal and state authorities work together like this," Steele said. "If we ever need state assistance with something like a wildfire, we already have this relationship of working together, which, in turn, can lead to a quicker, stronger response."

Nate Prairie, a wildlife technician working with the NRB under an agreement between Fort McCoy and Colorado State University, agreed.

"It was educational for me to see what the helicopters can do during this training," said Prairie, who assisted with the prescribed burn.

"Working together to build this partnership in engaging fires can only help us all be better prepared."

Barnier said the 1-147th Blackhawks were employed to stop some Wisconsin wildfires in 2013. Those same aircraft and their capabilities could be called upon again in 2014.

"The WDNR has an excellent relationship with the 1-147th, and we appreciate their support," Barnier said. "The Fort McCoy training helps ensure they are prepared statewide to respond to any wildfire we may have."

Blackhawk pilots from the 1-147th also appreciated the training opportunity, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Tomblin, instructor pilot for the unit.

"The training supports the requirement to train as we fight," Tomblin said. "When we build and conduct training for our aircrews, we want it to be as challenging as safety will allow. It is a rare opportunity for us to be able to train our crews on an actual fire.

"At Fort McCoy, we were able to put our crews into a controlled and challenging environment where they integrated with the WDNR to suppress a live fire," Tomblin said.

"As a result of the training, we are postured to continue supporting the Wisconsin fire season with mission-ready crews who understand how to integrate with outside organizations."

For more information on the prescribed burn program, call Kerkman at the installation forestry office at 608-388-2102.

For more about the WDNR programs to respond to and prevent wildfires, visit their website at http://dnr.wi.gov.