Fire crews trained on buildings learn to fight wildfires at Wildland School in Molalla

More than a hundred firefighters from 25 agencies across Oregon are training for the Metro Advanced Wildland School.
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 5:38 PM PDT
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MOLALLA Ore. (KPTV) - More than a hundred firefighters from 25 agencies across Oregon are training for the Metro Advanced Wildland School in Molalla.

In the training course, 125 structural firefighters are learning techniques to fight wildfires using real flames.

Deputy Fire Chief Ricard Saalsaa of Philomath Fire & Rescue said it’s one thing to talk about fire, and another thing to face real flames.

“So this gives the opportunity to people who’ve never been able to experience fire upfront, to see how it behaves and how to effectively put the fire out,” Saalsaa says. “When you’ve got buildings and things of that nature, you’ve got people that they deal with. Out here there’s maybe livestock and stuff like that but for the most part, it’s the forest that’s on fire.”

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Hands-on training is more important than ever because of the different elements such as wind, humidity as well as terrain. One of the exercises on the docket, practicing the art of setting a fire on slash piles using drip torches.

“To be able to set a fire so it back burns against the fire that’s coming towards you. That creates an area that is already burned and so there’s nothing left for the fire to burn through,” Saalsaa says.

Captain Rachel Brozovich with Keizer Fire District said firefighters also learn radio communication and coordination skills. In one exercise, they learn the best way to communicate via radio to a helicopter doing waterdrops with 110 gallons of water.

“We’re describing what they might encounter. For one, they have to find us,” Brozovich says. “They need kind of some landmarks, so whether that’s trees powerlines. When a water drop happens, there is some hazard to personnel on the ground. So that back-and-forth that takes place is the mostly to do with the approach, where we want the bucket to drop.”

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Every year during training is another opportunity to improve and be ready for those real-life emergencies.

“We’re always constantly evolving we’re always using our feedback and what happened in the last season to improve our practices and really develop those best performance measures that we can take,” Brozovich says.