Firefighters from 27 departments train in wildland fires; exercise benefits land, animals, hunters
GERING — White smoke filled the skies over the Wildcat Hills this past weekend as the Gering Fire Department hosted the annual Wildland Engine Academy.
Over 100 firefighters from 27 different departments used 40 pieces of equipment to complete tasks on fuel mitigation, working initial attacks on fires, aerial resources and heavy equipment.
The Gering Volunteer Fire Department cooperated with the Nebraska Forest Service, State Fire Marshal’s Training Division and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency for the training exercises. During the weekend academy, firefighters simulated a fire that would occur in the hills.
Before starting the fire, firefighters ignited small test fires throughout the Wildcat Hills to determine wind direction and make sure they were comfortable with the conditions. Once the test was over, firefighters waited until the fire grew to an acre before working on containment and extinguishing it. A Black Hawk helicopter pre-treated some of the surrounding area to stop the fire from spreading. The helicopter is capable of carrying 600 gallons of water. A single-engine air (sea) tanker also dropped 500 gallons of water during the academy exercises.
Seventy-five firefighters participated in the exercise along with 25 incident management team members. Assets came from Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota.
Gering Volunteer Fire Chief Nathan Flowers said, “The Nebraska Game and Parks is a huge asset for us to be able to do this.”
By working with the Buffalo Creek Wildlife Management Area, they organized the exercise through the Wildcat Hills. The exercise served multiple purposes by providing training opportunities for firefighters, reduced some of the vegetation overflow through fuel mitigation, so fires cannot escape the area, and supported wildlife and hunters by maintaining the area. The prescribed burning of grasses reduces the risk of catastrophic fires.
The Gering VFD held the first engine academy in 2014.
“We were able to utilize these trainings to qualify people for federal fires,” Flowers said. “We’ve learned that this is going to be a benefit statewide, so we’ve improved this again to offer it to all departments.”