FORT McCOY, Wis. –
Firefighters from across the Army Reserve used Fort McCoy, Wis., as the backdrop for a 10-day airport rescue firefighting apparatus driver/operator training course detailing the ins and outs of various firefighting vehicles, May 15 to 27, 2022.
The training is led by instructors from the Illinois Fire Service Institute with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and gives Soldiers the knowledge and confidence they need to safely and effectively operate various firefighting vehicles. There were more 20 Soldiers representing five firefighter detachments attending this training.
“We had several people on the first couple days who had never even seen the trucks, some had never ridden in them and some who had never driven them,” said Tal Prendergast, Department of Defense program director, Illinois Fire Service Institute. “We built them up all the way to driving on the public roadway, then they’ve driven off-road. They’ve become very proficient with driving these trucks.”
To prepare the Soldier-firefighters to respond to emergency situations, this driver/operator training is divided into separate sections. The first five days consists of a firehose of information about the intricate workings of the vehicles and how to properly pump water through the trucks. From there, the course allows attendees to learn about how to transport water to remote fire location and culminates with a practical application of the skills learned throughout the course.
“Mentally, it’s intense the first five days because we’re throwing a ton of information at them,” Prendergast said. “We’re going to push you, we’re going to keep throwing stuff at you, but eventually it’s going to start clicking and all the dots connect from the first day to the last day.”
Military firefighters have a diverse mission that could see them in a wide array of situations. Whether fighting fires in remote locations or responding to an incident at an airfield, they need to be prepared for almost anything. To do this, it is important to have a well-stocked toolbelt of skills.
“Being Army firefighters, we need to know how to do our job as specifically anywhere in the world,” said Spc. Cameron Singletary, a firefighter with the 463rd Firefighter Engineer Detachment out of Houston. “We’re capable of going anywhere in the world and we need to know how to use our tools and equipment and use these skills to do our job properly.”
The depth of knowledge covered throughout the 10 days prepares these Soldiers to react to a variety of situations and are better firefighters because of it.
“They tell you how to get any friction loss number, gallons per minute, how much water you’re losing,” said Spc. Tanner Neagle, a firefighter with the 463rd Firefighter Engineer Detachment. It’s just so detailed that when I go back to my civilian job, or when we get deployed, I’ll know what kind of water I need, how much time I have with that water and numbers I need if we need to go into a commercial building.”
One thing that every training event has in common for Army Reserve firefighters is experience and knowledge. Each iteration presents another opportunity to learn about something that can be so uncontrollable: fire.
“You can never do enough training, because no fire or any incident is the same,” Neagle said. “Coming in here and getting that extra knowledge that just puts you ahead of more things to make you prepared for any incident.”
The one overriding factor that drives the intense focus of these training scenarios is the top priority of any firefighter to help people in need.
“Knowledge is absolutely key, especially in this job where we have to practice these skills,” Singletary said. “If you don’t practice your skills, you lose them. This job, where our main goal is saving lives, we need to practice these skills so that we can save lives.”