Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Week 2 at Antietam: Fire Training
My second week at Antietam Battlefield was so much fun! Each day I did something different. The only downside was that I did not get to spend a lot of time inside the park because myself and the other ProRangers were so busy doing cool stuff elsewhere. On Thursday we had Wildland fire training. I think this was my best day in the Park Service so far. Each part of the training was back to back awesomeness. Everyone met at Prince William Forest Park around 8am. The first thing we did was the Pack Test. We each had to walk three miles with a forty-five pound vest on our shoulders. The objective of the test is to simulate the amount of weight we would have to carry when arriving on the fire scene. Now, many of you reading this have probably done the Pack Test plenty of times and are familiar with it. This past Thursday was my first time ever doing the Pack Test, and I have to say that I could not have made it past the finish line if it were not for my ProRanger friends encouraging me the entire way; they are the reason that I did not quit. It was hot, the sun was shining bright as ever, there were a few hills, I was sweating, and my shoulders were killing me, but because we all cheered and rooted for each other, myself, and everyone who participated in the training, crossed the finish line. (You should have seen us!) The next awesome thing we did was the learn how to deploy a fire shelter. Let’s say you and other members of your fire crew arrive to a fire and have been given orders to construct a fire line so that the fire does not spread through the rest of the forest. All of a sudden, the wind changes and blows the fire your way, blocking your escape routes and putting everyone in immediate danger. If this were to happen, everyone would run to a predesignated safe zone, deploy their fire shelters with their feet facing the fire, and wait for orders from the crew boss. Fire shelters are made of materials (I can’t remember the exact materials; I know fiberglass in one of them) that block out radiant heat and flames; they can be used for up to ninety minutes. They look similar to the oval shaped aluminum foil wrapped around a baked potato and are a last resort for safety when a fire is upon you. At the training on Thursday we each got to take a turn deploying a fire shelter. I think I did pretty good wiggling inside of mine within a few short seconds.
As part of fire training we got to work with some cool fire tools. We learned how to properly use Rakes, Pulaskis, and Shovels, as well as learn about Mcleods, Floppers, and Combi-tools. Each of these tools may be used when a crew needs to construct a fire line. Fire lines are a methodical way of over turning flammable fuels to stop the spread of a fire. For example, in training we went into the middle of a wooded area and used our tools to overturn grass so that the bare dirt showed. Now, it is important to know that when you make a fire line, you can’t just go whacking at every bit of grass like a crazy person; if you do this, someone will get hit in the eye with a shovel. The proper way to build a fire line is for everyone to be in single file, ten feet apart from each other, and to “strike and step”. You take a strike at the grass with your shovel and move along, then a person comes behind you and strikes with their rake, then the next person with their Pulaski, and so on until you all have created a neat line of dirt in the ground to stop the fire. When making a fire line, communication is key! How would you like it if you are going along with your rake and trip over a hole in the line? You would be mad that the person in front of you didn’t shout, “Hey, watch for the hole right here!” Building a fire line not only gave us firsthand experience on fighting a fire, but it also taught us the importance of working together and communicating.
The final and for me, funnest, part of our fire training making a hose lay. We learned how to make two types of hose lays: a progressive hose lay and a single hose lay. A single hose lay uses only one type of hose and a progressive hose lay uses more than one type of hose, such as an inch and inch and a half. On Thursday we split into two teams and raced each other, each team unrolling their hoses and connecting them in whichever way our crew boss told us to with the male end and female end. We had to be careful to keep any kinks or knots out of the hoses, otherwise the water would not flow through the hose smoothly. Once our hoses were set up correctly, we each got to take turns shooting water from the hose into the area where our fire would be. It was very rewarding to work with my teammates and share with them the experience of shooting icy water though the air and trees.
Along with the excitement of learning so many new things was the joy I felt at learning them with my ProRanger friends. I do not think I would have enjoyed fire training or any of the other things we did this week, such as Operational Leadership or Non -Emergency Driving Training if they were not with me. The first day I came to Antietam, I was nervous because of all of the cows and farms I saw. I have lived in Philadelphia all of my life and I was unsure about being out here in the country where there seems to be more cows than people. But you know what? The country is not such a scary place. The Rangers and Fire Instructors we had the opportunity to meet at Harpers Ferry and Prince William have been the best at helping us ProRangers understand everything we have to learn. I cannot wait to see everyone again!