By Lariena Nokes
A group of HCC fire science students had a chance to experience excitement and adventure during Spring Break, without having to leave Reno County.
“Today was the first full day of hard, hot work for Fire Science students,” Kansas Forest Service Incident commander Erick Ward said, on March 23.
Fire science students, with their Kansas Forest Service Red Card certifications for prescribed fire, were invited to participate in the 2015 Kansas Forest Service Mitigation Project.
For 11 years, the Kansas State Forest Service has coordinated firefighting projects to provide HCC fire science students with real world wildland fire- fighting experience.
“Our partnership with HCC is amazing because it started small and has grown over the years,” Ward said.
This year’s controlled burn, six-day project had 50 people from all branches of Kansas forestry and fire science, including the Hutchinson Fire Department, which participated in the activities.
The event was set up to be like any wild fire incident.
With the entire project staff bunking and working out of the brand new HCC Fire Science building, it was a valuable learning experience.
“Schools are a great place to go for training exercises because they have classrooms and we seek them out because they mirror actual events and fire situations,” Ward said.
Everyone participating in the project was scanned in to the Kansas Forest Service project database and those in the project received a green I.D. tag.
Visitors were given orange tags to insure safety and accountability. All participants were logged in to the Incident Management System and were tracked.
Items like logistical issues, supplies, planning and weather also were managed and tracked to the benefit of the project and the safety of the participants. For a wildland fire exercise, firefighters are required to wear Nomex, flame-resistant clothing. They carry a backpack stocked with their lunch and a fire shelter, made at Weckworth Manufacturing, Inc. in Haysville.
Before the prescribed fire project, the Prairie Dunes Golf Club and the Sand Hills State Park had hundreds of acres that were overgrown with dried vegetation waiting to be fuel for the next unplanned fire.
By doing their homework now the Kansas Department of Wildland and Parks and local fire departments will not have to stress the final exam when lives and property are at risk of being lost to fire.
During the planned burn, precautions were taken, including safety zones and safe escape routes for participants. The chain of command was established and followed by all.
“This is a 24 hour a day, week long project,” said Bob White, HCC Fire Science coordinator. “Students got here at 3 p.m. on Sunday and will not return home until 7 p.m. on Friday.”
Experienced firefighters and HCC fire science students all used shovels, and other hand tools.
“I am very happy to be a part of this project here in my primary response area,” said Troy Muler, a Hutchinson Fire Fighter and a Fire Mitigation crew Chief.
After graduating from HCC in 1997, Muler went to work for the Hutchinson Fire Department.
“I am stationed at Fire Station 7, so this is a dream come true to see all the fuel burned off in my primary response area,” Muler said.
After experiencing the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado and working 8,000 feet up on Ute Pass, Muler sees the need to burn down many of the flammable cedars infesting Reno County, creating a volatile, dangerous fire hazard.
“The sap and pitch burn just like gasoline, and we are helping the local ecosystem by burning off the cedar trees infesting this area,” Muler said.