Fifty prospects enrolled in state wildland firefighter academy

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 7:46 PM MST

On the heels of the second-worst year of wildfires in U.S. history, 1,000 people enrolled in the 2018 Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy’s winter session.

That includes nearly 50 new firefighters, which will work in different agencies across Colorado.

Tyler Campbell, who’s instructing one of the two entry-level classes, said this training provides firefighters — both new and old — with valuable experience.

“We can’t affect the weather from year to year. We can’t affect the fuels. We can’t affect those things,” Campbell said. “But we can affect the training that we receive and we give to one another. Hugely beneficial.”

It’s a week-long course preparing Colorado’s next batch of wildland firefighters. After four days of classroom instruction focused on fire behavior, best practices and safety, the students put their training on display Wednesday.

“It really opened my eyes to how hard they work and what they really do for our community,” said Michael Hatfield, a student in this year’s winter academy.

The field day included breakout sessions like fire shelter deployment and digging line — the primary method used to halt the spread of wildfires.

For these prospective firefighters, it’s only a matter of time before the next blaze burns, and they’re on assignment.

“It really means a lot to give back to the community, and you can’t look on TV and see what happened over this year, and not feel a sense of a call to action,” Hatfield said.

It’s a physically taxing job, as the crews work up to 16 hours a day, depending on the fire’s behavior. But the instructors realize — just like the land that burns and regenerates — the firefighting profession is always in need of more hands.

“If just a few of us bear the brunt all the time, we’re going to get burned out. We’re not going to be able to do the job,” Campbell said. “So, we need to be able to pass it on. We need to be able to pass the information on, and just have more people there to help us out. As we rise through the ranks, we know we need to back fill below us.”

The academy is hosted at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.