Fire Crews Study Hand To Flame Combat

Sunday, March 2nd 2008, 7:02 pm
By: News On 6

Wildfires raged in McAlester on Sunday.  But, they were set on purpose as hundreds of volunteer firefighters spent the weekend training.  The News On 6's Dan Bewley reports the plan is for practice to make perfect.

The focus of the training was to get firefighters out of the classroom and away from the big-rigs. They wanted them to use hand tools and be out in the elements,

Surrounded by woods in the grasslands of the Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, a wildfire is intentionally set.

"This here is fire suppression," said field instructor Mike Duncan to the firefighters.

The 380 firefighters, nearly all volunteers spent the weekend at McAlester, coming from places with names like Wilburton, Oaks, or Kansas.

Chief Carl Tesreau brought his Monkey Island crew from Grand Lake. The weekend training shows firefighters how to control and put out wildfires.

"This bunch here is learning to control a wild land fire, grassfire with hand tools. They get away from their trucks because there's not everywhere where we can get with a truck to put things out. So they got to know how to get in there and get it out by hand," said Monkey Island Fire Chief Carl Tesreau.

They also learned the ins and outs of fighting a fire from the sky. The National Guard's specially equipped helicopter and its 660 gallon bucket is on-call should a wildfire break out. The volunteer firefighters spent part of the training learning how to coordinate with the pilots.

"It's getting people used to communicating with each other so that we're not learning how to do it when there is a real, actual fire or disaster event," said Oklahoma National Guard Lt. Phil Hemmert.

The weekend was all about practice and practice, over and over. The more they do it, they say, the faster they can put out a real wildfire.

This was the 8th year for firefighter training at the ammunition plant. Organizers say they are already planning for next year.