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Hampshire firefighters get international wildfire training

05 October 2017

FIREFIGHTERS FROM Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) have received wildfire training from US firefighters.

HFRS are in talks with agencies such as the State Department for Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management as well as fire departments in central Oregon about upskilling crews. This is part of an ongoing relationship between HFRS and Oregon fire services which involves skill-sharing and gives the county’s firefighters the chance to learn new tactics and strategies.

During the three trips made so far the Hampshire groups, which total 12 firefighters, have worked alongside forestry workers and emergency services who are solely dedicated to the task of tackling wildfires. They have also had the opportunity to talk to incident managers involved in responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and other major incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and the space shuttle Columbia crash.

The exchange programme, which has included services such as Redmond Fire Rescue, Bend Fire and Rescue, Sister Camp Sherman Fire District and Black Butte Ranch Fire District, is now being extended into Oregon’s largest city, Portland. This future exchange will give a balance of rural and urban learning experiences to HFRS personnel.

HFRS’s lead on wildfires Dave Hodge recently became a national wildfire tactical advisor and can now be deployed to offer assistance at large and complex incidents across the UK and Europe. He spent 15 years tackling wildfires at Queensland Fire Service in Australia, before joining HFRS in 2009. He has been co-ordinating the Oregon visits. He said:  “We aim to be the best. You can’t do that by staying within your borders.

“You have to find out where the experts in each field are and see how they do things. 

“Their approach to wildfires is that you can’t prevent all of them so you have to prepare for them – the focus is on resilience.  

“The area that we visit calls itself a ‘fire-adapted community’ where they accept that wildfires are a part of their lives so everyone has to be prepared.”

“The value of this hands-on experience and the new skills you learn cannot be replicated by reading a manual.”

Station manager Hodge was accompanied on the latest visit to Oregon, which took place last month, by fellow Station Manager Dean Hodges, Watch Manager Martyn Elliott and Firefighter Dan Maidment.

In addition to wildfires, the group looked at other areas including medical response plus gained experience within the state's multi-agency command teams. The Hampshire firefighters also received extra training in US tactics in order to be able to respond to incidents alongside American colleagues in what was an exceptionally busy time.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to the impact wildfires were having on the state. Hundreds of thousands of tourists also descended on Oregon to view a solar eclipse while the crews were visiting. They were involved in fighting the Milli Fire that scorched more than 22,000 acres.  

This fire threatened the town of Sisters where the firefighters were based to the point that local residents had to be evacuated for their safety. The first group to visit helped tackle a 75,000-acre wildfire – the largest burning in the country at the time.

Crews from Oregon have also visited Hampshire twice to look at the world-class training facilities at The Academy and the ways in which HFRS collaborates with its blue light partners. They took back to their training ground the SAVE strategy to firefighting – scan, attack, ventilate, enter and extinguish – which involves thermal imaging cameras and a wall-piercing lance.

A specialist wildfire vehicle has also recently been rolled out at Rushmoor with increased water-carrying capabilities and greater maneuverability. HFRS has also put together a map of wildfires in the New Forest, by working with its partners, to show the patterns they follow based on records and features on the landscape. This innovation has helped fire crews predict the way a wildfire will behave and develop a strategy accordingly.