Approximately 65 rookie wildland firefighters from five agencies reported to the Carmen Thomas Memorial Guard School near Bly this week for five days of intensive training to prepare them for the 2017 wildfire season.
Guard school is the inaugural event of each fire season for the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership, a collaborative of five agencies -- Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service – providing wildfire management on public and private lands covering an estimated 10 million acres.
Wildfire management offers a broad range of job opportunities, from seasonal summer jobs to a satisfying, permanent career, and it all starts with guard school. From arrival, new recruits are immersed in wildfire response management.
Students are assigned to crews that will train, camp and eat together for the duration of the week, just as they will with their home units upon graduation. More seasoned wildland firefighters serve as “crew bosses,” teaching, coaching and advising the newcomers about protocol, tool care and other basics while gaining leadership experience for themselves.
In fact, while guard school is considered introductory training, it’s far more than that. Almost everyone staffing the camp is acting in a role he or she is training for, under the mentorship and guidance of certified personnel.
Classes include principles of safety on a wildland fire, principles of effective wildland firefighting, identifying environmental factors affecting the start and spread of wildland fire, and recognizing situations which indicate problem or extreme wildland fire behavior.
In between classroom instruction, students apply their new skills in field exercises, from compass/map challenges to digging fireline and laying hose. The hands-on experience equips entry-level personnel to perform appropriately in an incident.
This week will wrap up with live fire exercises Friday (weather permitting). Each crew will be “dispatched” to an incident, report to the scene, and commence assessment, initial attack, containment and suppression.
Until the 1990s, guard school was almost entirely conducted in a classroom setting with a few field activities. SCOFMP Training Officer Carmen Thomas changed that, introducing the incident management model that is the framework of all wildland fire incidents. In 2012, after battling cancer for some time, Thomas died. The program was re-named in her memory in 2013.