Aqua Crew had the unique opportunity to spend two weeks in Mississippi getting certified to operate chain saws and fight wildland fires. Several other Gulf Corps crews participated as well, some of which Aqua had met at Gulf Corps orientation in September. The trainings were incredibly tough and stretched us physically and mentally. At the same time, it was really fun! Our tight-knit crew grew even closer on this trip, and I’m sure none of us will forget the experiences we had.
The first week was S-212, during which we learned how to properly use chainsaws. Everyone on our crew already had at least 3 months of experience on a saw, but despite that we discovered we still had a lot to learn. Personally, I realized that I had never fully understood tension and compression forces involved with bucking felled trees. Our crew learned to be more methodical when using chain saws with the help of our instructors, Thayer and Jody.
Before the start of the wildland fire training, we had to take an arduous pack test, which involves speed walking while carrying 45 pounds. We had to walk 3 miles in 45 minutes, which was no easy feat. Passing the pack test gave us our Red Cards, which will enable us to fight fires and conduct prescribed burns.
Many of the instructors from the chainsaw week stayed on to teach us about fire behavior. We learned so much from them—they were patient teachers who clearly cared about helping us succeed. The knowledge we now have about suppressing and using fire will be useful for our careers, even if most of us never join a fire crew. We became familiar with firing devices like drip torches and plastic sphere dispensers (the latter looks like a paintball gun). We practiced deploying fire shelters. We punched in fireline using hand tools to scrape down to mineral soil. We learned about fire engines and bulldozers—bulldozers are commonly used to create fireline in the South because the terrain is flat. Most importantly, we learned to use our brains to problem solve, even in stressful situations.
Most S-190 fire trainings do not include live fire, but we were lucky. We participated in conducting a prescribed burn at Camp Tiak, the camp we stayed at for the duration of the trainings. Originally, our instructors had planned for two burn days on De Soto National Forest land; unfortunately, these plans got rained out. We were all happy that the instructors worked hard to come up with an alternate plan to give us the experience of being on a fire. We prepped the 2-acre burn unit by removing large dead logs and digging line around the area. The amount of line we had to dig was minimal because the burn unit was adjacent to natural fire breaks: a lake and a road. Once everything was ready, we assembled and lit the drip torches. Walking in proper formation so that no one assisting with firing would get surrounded by flames, crew members lit the area on fire. We also helped “hold the line,” by spacing out along the fireline and checking for spot fires. I was proud to be a part of Aqua Crew—we learned a lot as a team and we will apply our new skills when we return to project work in the new year.
Sarah Vande Brake – Gulf Corps Crew Member