Inside Fire Camp: Part Two

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NEMO, S.D. -

When we think of firefighters putting out flames, most of us probably picture the large engines and tender trucks, which firefighters use to hose down an active fire.

But, that doesn't always work on wildfires — when Mother Nature is often working against crews. That’s why the second focus of camp features hands-on instruction.

“Even though it seems like it could be such a simple thing, it really has just a lot of things behind it,” said Robert Cota, assistant fire management officer for the Boxelder Job Corps and the fire school’s incident commander. “There’s a lot of different reasons why we do what we do, and they get a real good taste for it.”

Divided into squads, we spent an entire morning rotating between interactive stations taught by active firefighters, with input from other firefighters training to climb the ranks — skills like using a drip torch, to fight fire with fire, and deploying a fire shelter should something go wrong.

Brandi Roetzel, a squad boss trainee in camp, said it was difficult to adjust from her normal role on the hand crew to leading the students all week long.

“It’s hard for me to step back and watch them work, but it’s needed,” Roetzel said. “They need someone kind of looking out for them, teaching them what they’re doing, leading them, guiding them, just pointing them in the right direction.”

INSIDE FIRE CAMP - WATCH THE ENTIRE SERIES

The squads all spent a good chunk of time digging a pair of fire lines too — an essential lesson on battling wildfires.

Firefighters build the line, either by machinery or by hand, depending on the resources available. The task requires endurance and strength, and can be even more strenuous under hot temperatures and near an active fire.

The difficulty of building line caught many campers by surprise, including Walter Bordewyk.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about the job before this week,” Bordewyk said. “I kind of had some idea of what firefighting entailed, but I was kind of surprised to find out that it’s a lot of just out there digging and more manual labor than I expected.”

The suppression tactic creates a break in the fuels the fire could burn, thus limiting the fire’s spread. However, it can be a formidable task for newcomers – who could do this for up to 16 hours a day on a wildfire.

“Whatever muscles you use to dig line, I need to build up, because they are sore today,” said Theresa Schaffner, a fire camp student.

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