Story and photos by Randy Tisor
“We are providing the safest environment for our students. Safety is the highest priority, not only for our firefighters, but the community we serve.”
With that statement by Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services Fire Captain Tom Joyce, the controlled burn scheduled for the morning of
May 8 as part of the Fort Carson FES Wildland Academy was pronounced canceled due to high winds.
The actual call to cancel, according to Joyce, was given by the “burn boss” – Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services firefighter captain, Peter Wolf. As burn boss for the controlled fire event, Wolf had the responsibility to ensure the safety of not only his student firefighting crew, but the responsibility to ensure that the planned, controlled fire remained small and relatively easy for the academy students to extinguish.
“The winds that were forecast for today were higher than predicted,” Joyce explained. “So, it was conducive to stop our training because it was the most responsible thing to do.
The weather forecast for the day had called for winds picking up much later in the day. Plans were made accordingly, Joyce said. Those plans included contingency courses of action for wind direction and higher wind speeds, however, spot weather forecasts gathered later in the morning indicated wind speeds that were too high for comfort.
Joyce said that the students taking part in the academy still received a lot of valuable and useful training. Training had begun just four days earlier and involved classroom and field instruction in the art and science of fighting wildland fires.
In addition to Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services, 15 agencies from the Colorado Springs community sent 83 students to the Wildland Academy. The academy was also, according to Joyce, an opportunity for greater communications integration among the emergency services taking part in or observing the academy.
The concluding event for the academy class was to prepare the groundwork for a wildland fire. Earlier in the morning, academy students set out to create a hand-dug buffer zone. The labor-intensive work resulted in a path designed to contain the fire in the low brush area. Plans were also made, and gear was positioned, to siphon water from a nearby creek to help douse a fire. The perimeter dig, however, was all that would be completed by the time cease fire was called.
“We were setting up a perimeter so we could do a controlled burn as a part of our class,” explained Michael Caldwell, a Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services firefighter with three years wildland firefighting experience and a squad boss leading a student team. “Our plan was to dig about a three-quarter mile line. It looks like hard work, and it is – it’s definitely hard work. But, when you get a good group of people together that … know what they’re doing, it becomes real
easy. Teamwork definitely pays off in wildland firefighting,” Caldwell said. “(The students) are doing great. They’re digging line and doing everything we could ask for. They’re from multiple agencies – from Cheyenne Mountain Fire Department, even Colorado Springs utilities has a crew out here.”
Caldwell felt that the classroom and field training paid off for the wildland firefighting students.
“I definitely trust any one of these people that took this class today with me on a real fire after today,” Caldwell said. “Carson teaches a great program – probably one of the better ones in the area.”
As the academy students neared the end of their hand-dug line, Fort Carson firefighters set about igniting a buffer zone within the approximately 15-acre site. The burned buffer area would be useful in helping to contain the western edge of the proposed training fire;
ultimately, it would be the only fire of the exercise. Wildland firefighting students used the small burn area to practice their newly acquired skills.
The planning process for another Wildland Academy slated for next year will start soon, Joyce said. He added that Fort Carson Fire and Emergency Services would like to offer a similar academy on a yearly basis and stressed that the academy was a win-win situation for Fort Carson and the surrounding communities.