Sunday, May 27, 2012

Week 2, Pt 2: Training

Week 2, Pt 2: Ranger Training
May 22 - 25

The rest of the week I spent out of town attending various training sessions organized by the National Park Service for the ProRangers. Tuesday and Wednesday's training took place in Harper's Ferry National Historic Park. Harper's Ferry was a historic town built along the course of the Potomac River in West Virginia and surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs. The town was famous for its military armory and John Brown's failed raid upon it in 1860, which helped spark the Civil War.

The training at Harper's Ferry concerned Operational Leadership, which explored topics such as risk management, situational awareness, stress management, and communication. Each of these topics were taught by park rangers who related their importance through their own real-life examples. All of us ProRangers enjoyed hearing the personal stories of the park rangers and how they utilized this training in their respective parks.

The next day, we left for Prince William Forrest Park where we conducted Wildland Fire Training. Fire training is an important skill for park rangers to possess as it prepares them to safely fight large-scale fires that frequently occur in National Parks. This training involved the completion of online courses, with the conclusion being the field training exercise. Our field training began at Prince William with a pack test designed to simulate the carrying of required fire equipment in the field. The test required each ProRanger to carry forty-five pounds of weight a distance of three miles in under forty-five minutes. At first, I thought the test would be easy, as we were required to walk the three miles and I have carried more than forty-five pounds of weight. Despite an easy start, we were all shocked at how much the pack test challenged us. All of the ProRangers were sweating bullets by the end of the test, but through a combination of perseverance and team encouragement, we all made it across the finish line!

After completing the pack test, we reviewed the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders and the Eighteen "Watch Out" Situations. These rules are critical for wildland firefighters to remain safe on the fire line and they must review them every year to remain certified. After some time in the classroom, we got some hands-on training on fire shelters, a last-ditch safety device, resembling a sleeping bag, that is used to protect firefighters from the intense heat of consuming fires. Each ProRanger practiced deploying one of these shelters, which entailed whipping it from its case, flailing it open and then wrapping oneself inside it before dropping to the ground. During the test we all looked like a bunch of big green grubs on the ground, but in a last stand against fires, we would have survived!

The conclusion of our fire training was the most fun, learning how to dig a fire line and operate fire hoses. To create a fire line, we grabbed hold of various fire-fighting tools, such as pulaski's, rakes, and shovels, and dug a line of earth along a treeline. This line of earth simulated a flame-proof barrier that would prevent wildland fires from spreading across them. For the fire hoses, the ProRangers were divided into two groups, where we raced to link together hoses into a "progressive hose lay." Once we had several hoses and valves linked, we turned on the pump and let the water fly!

Our last day of training entailed Non-Emergency Vehicle Operation (NEVO) training back in Harper's Ferry. This involved us driving law enforcement vehicles through an obstacle course under the ranger's supervision. The course simulated driving sharp curves, parallel parking, and three-point turns; all of which we may be required to perform while operating government vehicles in the park. The course was a valuable refresher for drivers young and old; I especially enjoyed the opportunity to drive one of the law enforcement ranger's Ford Crown Victoria.

By the end of the week, all of us ProRangers had learned a great deal and enjoyed some great team-building exercises. I want to send a special thanks to Rangers Mark Howard, Dave Ballam, Ryan Levins, and all of the other park rangers who helped us through these training exercises. Only two weeks into my internship and already I have had several amazing experiences with the ProRanger team!

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