Training to fight wildland fires

Published 07/01 2013 05:26PM

Updated 07/01 2013 06:35PM

CHAMPAIGN -- Fighting wildfires can also be incredibly unpredictable. Nineteen firefighters died battling a blaze in Arizona on Sunday. First responders learn to fight those kind of fires in Illinois as well. The University of Illinois Fire Service Institute trains about 200 first responders every year.

Illinois crews spent more than two weeks fighting fires in California in 2012. It's their dedication to the job that keeps them going, even in scary situations.

Just last year, firefighters put out more than a thousand wild-land fires in Illinois. Many of those first responders learned the ropes from University of Illinois instructors who brought their gear right to each individual department.

"We actually deliver all our fundamental training wild land training out in the field at the home departments of fire protection districts," said Fire Service Institute Wild-land and Prescribed Fire Program Manager Tom Richter.

The clothes and tools are smaller and lighter than what a typical firefighter would use. After 20 hours of training, they're ready to tackle real fires.

"At a house fire, the incident commander and those that manage the fire can see the entire event," said Richter. "In a wild land fire, the incident commander almost never sees but a very small portion of that."

That's why wild-land firefighters rely so much on experience and each other. In the heat of the moment, their passion pushes them to work even harder.

"Nationally after fourteen days, they're required by law to stand them down for two days," said Richter. "Well those guys are sitting at the hotel, staring out the window, looking at the smoke, going, 'when do we get to go back?'"

There have been two catastrophic-sized fires in Illinois during the past couple years. One of them was at Pere-Marquette State Park in Southern Illinois. 1700 acres caught fire in November 2011. The other big fire we had in the state sparked in Utica last September. It burned about 1,000 acres.

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