With one less spark, there is one less fire. And with one less fire - property, homes, community members, and wildland firefighters will be safer.

With trying to keep wildland firefighters safe, an annual training exercise was recently held in Oracle.

The firefighters were broken into groups and rotated between an overview of how to save as many buildings as possible when fighting a fire, understanding the ins and outs of a chainsaw, deployment of water reservoirs in remote areas, as well as how and when to use a fire shelter.

About 200 wildland firefighters from Casa Grande, Oracle, Eloy, Golder Ranch, and Northwest Fire came out to prepare for the coming wildfire season, which is anticipated to be a busy one due to the dry winter.

The 19 wildland firefighters who died in last year’s Yarnell Hill Fire were on the minds of crew members as they discussed the time factor when faced with the decision to deploy a fire shelter or to try and get out of the area.

 Jim Stout, a captain with Casa Grande Fire, led the lesson. Pointing out that from the time a wildland firefighter is faced with a life or death situation, they have about 30 seconds to get safely in their fire shelter.

A fire shelter, which is a last resort, is a sleeping bag-shaped cocoon designed to reflect radiant heat, protect against convective heat, and trap breathable air.

He emphasized to the firefighters to practice deploying their fire shelter at inconvenient times rather than when they are ready for it.

“That’s not how it’s going to happen,” Stout said, “You’re not going to be there just happy go lucky and have a fire run up at you. It’s going to be in a stressful situation. It’s going to be in a time when emotions are elevated, there’s confusion, there’s chaos. That’s what we want to simulate when we have these guys get into their fire shelters.”

Stout added that in all of his years of fighting wildfires, he has not once had to deploy his fire shelter.

At another station, crews learned the ins and outs of one of their most important and useful tools – a chainsaw. They went over what spare parts they should always have with them, as well as how to properly maintain them while out in the field. 

Greg Smith, who is the superintendent for Northwest Fire District’s Ironwood Hotshots crew, understands how important it is for firefighters to maintain their gear while staying safe.

He said the people with chainsaws lead the way while they are fighting fires, and without them being safe and efficient, the rest of the crew will begin to lag behind.

“This is a real key component to a hotshot crew’s success,” Smith said.  

While firefighters are gearing up to do their job and stay safe while they do it, officials with the departments and districts said people can help out by keepimg their properties clean of brush and debris and making sure, after having a camp fire, that it is out.

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