GLENVILLE – The West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF) recently held a pack test at Glenville State College (GSC) as part of the Wildland Fire Fighting Red Card Certification process.
The test is a work capacity test that, along with other Wildland Fire Fighting instruction, allows participants to become federally certified to work on western fires. The physical fitness test ensures that wildland firefighters can handle the rigors of western fires by confirming their ability to carry a 45-pound pack for three miles, and to do so in less than 45 minutes. After passing this year’s Pack Test, the wildland fire fighters will be able to turn in a Red Card that allows them to be deployed for duty and fight fires in the western United States.
“Each year the WVDOF puts on various classes to individuals across the state, including volunteer fire departments and other state or federal agencies, to help learn how to suppress wildfires in our state. Working with Glenville State College Professor of Forest Technology Dr. Brian Perkins, the Division of Forestry and I set up various certification programs for Glenville State students to become Wildland Fire Fighters,” said Jesse King, WVDOF Service Forester. “This includes training in S-130 Wildland Fire Fighting, and S-190 Wildland Fire Behavior. These are federally recognized trainings given through the WVDOF covering everything from the movement of wildfires across a landscape and fuel load removal to lessening the spread of fire, how to use engine pumpers and hose lays, and firing operation tools.”
Several individuals took part in the test, including members of the Roane County and Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Departments, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and West Virginia Division of Forestry employees, and Glenville State College Department of Land Resources students.
Jon T. Wilson, a 2003 Glenville State graduate and current WVDOF Service Forester for Tyler and Doddridge Counties, took part in the test.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years, so I train for the test all year because it isn’t something you want to just jump into – walking that distance, weighted, in a set amount of time,” he said. Wilson successfully completed the test well within the allotted 45 minutes.
Becoming certified is important, and not just for local wildland fire incidents.
“Our local crews try to assist the western foresters in the summer because, typically, in the summer our fire season here in West Virginia has come to an end but their fire season is in full swing. We try to send a crew at least once a year, sometimes twice,” he said. Wilson has assisted with western fires eight times. Last year he was deployed as part of a 20-person hand crew to Utah and he has also been to Montana, California, Oregon, Arizona, and other states.
Several Glenville State College students also took the pack test, the culmination of their work to earn Western Wildland Fire Fighting Certification (S-130/S-190). One of those students was senior Land Resources student Cora Hedrick.
“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have a friend who has fought fires out west and have heard her talk about it and I worked for the Division of Forestry as a summer intern at Seneca State Forest and Calvin Price State Forest and heard those guys talk about it, so that has influenced and encouraged me to get certified to do it myself,” Hedrick said. She hopes to be deployed as part of a crew this summer.
“Forest fires are always going to be around as long as there are humans…something like 9 of 10 forest fires are human-caused. So, if we’re not training the new guys, there will be nobody to respond to the fires,” Wilson said. “It’s important to nurture that next group of firefighters – cultivating trained, specialized people who know that you can make a career out of this.”
College students, Wilson says, are ideal wildland fire fighters.
“Wildland firefighting is perfect for college students because it’s a summertime gig. Right at the time that everyone is getting out for the summer, that is when fire season is ramping up. There are a lot of college students fighting fires out west. It is a good experience – you’re meeting new people, making good money, and seeing different parts of the country,” he added.
For more information about the certifications offered to Glenville State College Land Resources students – including the Western Wildland Fire Fighting Certification (S-130/S-190) – contact Land.Resources@glenville.edu or call (304) 462-6370.