RIO GRANDE COUNTY — In preparation for fire season, the Rio Grande National Forest worked with local fire leaders on training exercises the morning of May 19. These training exercises prepare fire personnel who will be working on fires if they happen in the area later this summer.
Firefighters from the San Luis Valley Interagency Fire Management Unit conducted the Work Capacity Test and fire shelter deployment exercises as part of their annual firefighter refresher trainings that are required for all personnel working in the fire area. The Work Capacity Test (WCT) establishes a minimum fitness standard and is required for all firefighters.
The WCT is administered to ensure firefighters meet the expected fitness levels. This training is often called the “pack test” and there are three levels of certification: Light, Moderate and Arduous. Firefighters engaging in direct suppression efforts will be certified at the Arduous level. Firefighters were sent in 1-minute intervals on the pack test to test their abilities throughout the exercise.
All wildland firefighters are required to conduct a practice fire shelter deployment on an annual basis. A fire shelter is an aluminum “tent” that firefighters use to cover themselves with when there is no other way to escape a rapidly advancing wildfire. Deploying these “tents” could mean life or death in a dangerous wildland fire situation and it is paramount that the deployment is practiced regularly.
Firefighters are reminded of historical situations where a “burn over” occurred and firefighters either perished or survived due to shelter deployments. These shelters are deployed with the feet facing the flaming front and the head farthest away from the danger and must be deployed in a matter of minutes to pass the training test. Coordinators shake each shelter to ensure the firefighter has establish a proper seal to the ground that will allow the least amount of smoke possible into the enclosed area.
Agencies throughout the entire San Luis Valley spend hours working to refine emergency operation plans and train for potential wildland fire scenarios. Tabletop exercises are conducted during annual emergency manager meetings like the one that took place in Mineral County a few months ago. They offer a unique chance for emergency personnel, first responders, emergency managers, local and state officials as well as local fire departments to get together and practice how they will handle different emergency situations.
The Rio Grande National Forest has spent the past several months working through worst-case scenarios for the coming fire season. Last summer, the state was ravaged by wildland fires and though each fire was eventually contained, every fire offers a chance for learning something new. These past fires are used to further education and to improve response to wildland fires. So far, the coming fire season looks average according to reports from Rio Grande National Forest.