By Maj. Margaret Ziffer
105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
SALINA, Kan. ' For the third year, the state of Kansas has expanded its capability to respond to wildland fires, thanks to a partnership between the Kansas National Guard and the Kansas Forest Service. Together, the agencies conducted the Wildland Firefighting Red Card Certification Course, certifying additional Guardsmen across the state to respond to wildland fires, at the Great Plains Joint Training Center in Salina Sept. 14-18.
Lt. Col. Larry Leupold, director of military support for the Kansas National Guard, said the need for increased wildland firefighting capability stemmed out of the major wildland fires that occurred in the 2016-2017 season.
Kansas Army and Air National Guard students practice line-digging techniques during the field training day portion of the Wildland Firefighting Red Card Certification Course that took place at the Great Plains Regional Training Center in Salina Sept. 17.
'The Starbuck fire and the Anderson Creek fire burned thousands of acres,' Leupold said. 'At that point, we realized we needed to have more state level capabilities and resources.'
The program relies on the expertise and instruction of the Kansas Forest Service, which provides the instructors who certify the students.
'What we're trying to accomplish today is to get more people in Kansas qualified for firefighter level II,' said course instructor Dennis Carlson, assistant fire management officer with the Kansas Forest Service. 'A lot of times here in Kansas we talk about how we don't have a lot of fires, but we do. When we get some of these really big fires, we need a lot more resources.'
For students working toward their first-time Red Card certification, the training consisted of four days of classroom training and one day of field training. The field training was comprised of three stations teaching students about fire engines, hose lays, pumps, water sources, digging lines and setting up dip tanks. The day culminated in conducting a controlled burn.
'Fire is an important part of the natural resource management,' Carlson said. 'A lot of people think fire is a bad thing, but in order to keep the grass landscape stable and healthy, prescribed burns are needed.'
Not all students were first-time attendees; some students in the course were taking their annual recertification, which consisted of only one day of refresher training. All students who successfully complete their respective certification or recertification training are firefighter level II certified and can be called to respond to wildland fires throughout the state of Kansas.
Students also had the option to try to pass the Pack Test, a three-mile hike carrying 45 pounds, which must be completed in under 45 minutes. Those who pass the Pack Test are eligible to respond to wildland fire emergencies outside the state of Kansas.
'We could have a disaster in any part of the state, sometimes multiple parts of the state at the same time,' Leupold said. 'So it gives us the flexibility to be more responsive to the local communities' needs by having trained Guardsmen throughout the state.'
This year's training certified about 35 new students and recertified about 20 more. Leupold explained that the goal is to build a force capability of 100 Guardsmen that can support other wildland firefighting entities in statewide efforts at any given time.
'When we work together at all levels, from the local level up to the state level, that's where we do our best work,' Leupold said. 'It comes down to how we get the right resources, the right capabilities to the right place at the right time to protect our families across the state. The Kansas Forest Service has been a great partner in helping us prepare for that.'
Carlson, a 22-year veteran of the Forest Service, discussed what he liked about instructing the course, and how the partnership benefits the entire state when it comes to emergency preparedness.
'Working together, we can get more people more knowledge about doing wildland firefighting,' Carlson said. 'Once you start getting into a situation where resources are needed, you know where to find those resources and bring them together.'
'This is a special part of who we are as the Kansas National Guard,' Leupold said. 'Not only do we have to maintain our readiness to protect our citizens by deploying abroad, but we also start here at home when it comes to disasters. Having the opportunity to come out and train and work with our interagency partners like the Forest Service ' whether it's a winter storm, wildland fire, or a world pandemic ' this is what the Guard does. This is who we are. It's something I know all our guardsmen are very proud of.'