Article and photos by Kevin Nunn
Two years ago, the National Fire Academy (NFA) began hosting Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior (S-190) and Wildland Firefighter Training (S-130) in a computer-driven, online format through www.nfaonline.dhs.gov. In partnership with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and the National Association of State Foresters, these NFA courses allow structural fire departments to obtain the training necessary for safe operations in the wildland-urban interface. If your department responds to any type of vegetation fires, the safety of your firefighters may depend on this education. These courses are free and are specifically designed so that structural fire departments with limited resources can take advantage of these opportunities.
Ready, Set, Go!
The Pigeon Forge Fire Department protects a significant amount of wildland/urban interface with thousands of rental cabins spread throughout the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Up until our department became a pilot program department for the International Association of Fire Chief’s Ready, Set, Go! program, our firefighters were minimally involved with wildland firefighter training. To educate the public about wildland fire, we felt it would be best if all firefighters were trained in wildland firefighting. These online classes have provided the perfect avenue for that training.
The Pigeon Forge Fire Department Web site, www.cityofpigeonforge.com, directs residents and visitors to Ready, Set, Go! with materials in print and video formats. We have made presentations to community civic organizations. Public service announcements are played on the local cable-access station, and our local newspaper has become very familiar with the mission of Ready, Set, Go!
Coordination and Testing
It is important to have a coordinator who tests the system and understands how to guide firefighters through the NFA registration process, the course materials, and communicate with all agencies involved. This can be a department’s training officer or another designated firefighter, but someone should be chosen to go through the training before the other members. Testing the material also includes using one or two firefighters take the entire course under real circumstances at the fire station or at their home. This can help the coordinator identify any problems that might be present within a specific fire department and situation.
Coordination and testing are important because final certifications within this program are delivered only through your local NWCG partner. The final exercise in this online training program is a practical field exercise conducted by the department’s local NWCG partner. After the field exercise, nationally-recognized certifications are delivered through the agency. We have two local partners: The Tennessee Division of Forestry and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our State Forestry Office administered the field exercise; the National Park administered the pack test for firefighters wishing to pursue the Red Card. All of this took coordination, communication, and, above all, the focused efforts of one coordinator.
(2) Pigeon Forge firefighters make use of the local library to complete the online training module.
Resources and Help
Many NFA online courses are available; the S-130/S-190 series is just one. For the safety of firefighting personnel, the basic NFA wildland courses should be used by all structural fire departments that respond to wildland fires. Our firefighters were apprehensive at first, but as the system became more familiar to them, many were looking at other available courses. After completing the coursework, Scott Large, a volunteer firefighter with the Pigeon Forge stated, “I got a lot more out of this course than if I had been required to read a book.” His sentiments were echoed by many as they finished their training. Ultimately, our department has become stronger and is more prepared to fight wildland/urban interface fires.