Students Find Firefighting A Hot Topic


Mother Nature may have blessed the Rim country with 16 inches of rainfall so far this year, but wildland fires remain a credible threat.

Basic wildland firefighting is taught three times a year in Arizona. The four-day course held in Payson a few weeks ago is a requirement for entry-level firefighters and personnel who need a firefighter 2 qualification.


The progressive line or "one lick" method is used to create a fireline on this downhill slope. Instead of one person clearing one spot of trees and brush perfectly each person does one lick with their axe or shovel then bypasses the next person on the fireline. The efficient method allows firefighters to quickly create a fireline.

Shonda Beach took the course so she could be contracted to the Forest Service to sit stand-by with her water truck. Beach said the teachers made the class great.

Payson Fire Marshal Mike Winters took the class as part of his continuing education requirement even though he has 13 years of experience fighting fires.

Ryan Sundra is a young man in pursuit of a firefighting career. The most interesting part of the class to him was learning how weather effects fire behavior.

"When you have a thunderstorm above a fire and it starts to deteriorate it creates down-sloping winds," he said. "These can change the fire's direction almost instantly."

This class talked about creating a fire line by using "drip torches" or dropping "ping pong balls" filled with pyrophoric chemicals.

Becoming a Basic Wildland Firefighter takes at least a year. The courses needed are determined by the agency a firefighter works for, his or her fireline time and what type of rescue operations they plan to be involved with.

Instructor Robb Beery was able to make the important yet potentially dull subject of map reading interesting to his students.

The rest of the planet uses Universal Transverse Mercator to locate a particular position on a map. UTM was created in NATO during World War II to pinpoint any spot on the globe within 1 meter.

In the United States surveyors use the rectangular land description system. Firefighters narrow this grid into 40-acre squares.

"If we can't find a fire in 40 acres by looking for smoke, we're doing something wrong," Beery said.

According to Beery, these 40-acre sections were originally surveyed with a 66-foot chain. There are 80 of these chains in a mile. These chains are part of firefighting terminology still used today in estimating the amount of fireline to be built or the rate of speed at which a fire is moving.

Students also had to understand the incident command system and human factors on the fireline.

Their knowledge of wildland fire behavior included 18 watchout situations, and the proper use of strategy tactics and equipment. One-fifth of the class time is spent on field exercises.

Gila Community College worked in a collaborative effort with the Fire Management Division of the Arizona State Land Department and the Diamond Star Fire Department to get this year's student the training they required.

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