By Greg Kendall-Ball
The Abilene Reporter-News
ABILENE, Texas — An estimated 250 firefighters from across the state will meet at Brownwood's Camp Bowie, a National Guard training center, Feb. 17-20 for the Central Texas Wildfire Academy, a combination of classroom and handson instruction in wildland firefighting.
The participants will learn a standardized firefighting curriculum developed by the Texas Forest Service, said Jamey Creek, the officer in charge of the camp and a volunteer firefighter in Buffalo Gap.
Uniformity in training is key because it allows firefighters from different departments to work together when called on to fight large fires, Creek said.
"It's eerily similar to the military, where any unit is expected to be able to be inserted into (the) role of any other unit. When everyone is trained the same, there's supposed to be seamless integration," he said.
In a cooperative effort between the camp, the Texas Forest Service and the Dam Volunteer Fire Department, the four-day academy will stress safety and fire operations in a variety of settings.
Mary Leathers, resource specialist with the Texas Forest Service, said more training means firefighters are safer while performing their tasks.
"Our role at Texas Forest Service is to train the initial attack responders to perform firefighting tasks in as safe a manner as possible," Leathers said, "so everybody goes home at the end of the day."
Before the standardized training was developed, Creek said numerous departments showing up at a large fire could be chaotic.
"It would be like we're all talking on a different frequency. My department may choose to attack a fire directly, and another department may want to fight it indirectly," Creek said. "Now, with the training, we all show up to fight - and we all fight it in the same way. It's like we're all learning to read off the same sheet of music."
In addition to learning the same techniques, tactics and procedures, Creek said, firefighters learn how to work collaboratively alongside other departments.
"I remember a big fire in Coleman County last fall. I think one truck each came out from ECCA, from Jim Ned, from Potosi, Buffalo Gap, Hamby. But, thanks to the training, all of the trucks were able to work in concert like they were from the same department," he said.
Creek said a controlled burn is planned for the 19th or 20th, if weather permits. It would give firefighters a chance to practice the new skills and techniques they learned at the academy.
"The camp also benefits, because some of our dead vegetation will burn away, which helps keep our area safer, and helps protect the area ranches," Creek said.
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