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Jun-29-2009 04:06printcomments

SPECIAL FEATURE: 'Where There's Smoke - There's Fire' (VIDEO)

Special feature video report by Gerrit Roelof and Jerry Freeman on wildland firefighter training in Oregon.

Oregon Wildland Firefighter training
Photo and video by Jerry Freeman

(SWEET HOME, Ore.) - It's hard to underestimate the importance of fire safety in a state like Oregon. This week, in preparation for the upcoming summer fire season, students are learning the finer points of wildland firefighting and honing their skills, until they get it right.

Paul Heibert, the incident commander at the wildland firefighter school, says a lot of the work is standardized training.

"It's done nationally and we don't have a lot of wiggle room as far as what we teach them. which I'd say is a good thing. So three of the five days we have the mandatory stuff and the rest of it we have some play."

Mapping out the lines of territory can be a challenge. Jennifer O'Leary with U.S. Forestry, says different agencies control the parcels of land that can potentially become fire zones, and require costly firefighting efforts.

She explains that "the checkerboard of the landscape" between BLM, ODF, Forest Service, and private groups like Cascade Timber Company, leads to many questions and a lot of coordination when fires break out. There is no choice, and this region of Oregon in particular requires a lot of tactical planning.

"That's one of the things probably more unique to the Sweet Home District in wildfires that occur in this area than other parts of the Willamette Valley."

A fire training boss yells out, "OK, Squad Bravo is going to be on the top of the hill lighting up the top half of their fire, they'll burn it up halfway and make sure it doesn't go over the line."

The pace quickens as the winds drive the heat and flames sometimes, right onto the firefighter's positions.

The wildland firefighter instructors are tasked with teaching students how to stay cool, in what can sometimes be... very hot conditions.

Chris Donaldson with the U.S. Forestry Service, says it takes a lot of preparation for crews to remain effective and, even more importantly, safe and alive.

"Most fire gear weighs 30 to 35 pounds, we have to have everything on us not just so we can fight a fire for a day, also for if we have to be out for 24-hours."

And what can be more important on a fire scene, than good old H2o.

"One of the main things we're all going to carry a lot of water bottles, typically four or five of these quart bottles, sometimes six."

This season when fire season heats up, these trained firefighters will be on the line, quite literally, working sometimes around the clock with heavy tools and a lot of elbow grease to protect forests from burning to the ground.

Firefighting is a hard life, but one that allows participants to know at the end of the day, that they truly made a difference.

Watch out special feature video report on wildland firefighter training in Oregon with Gerrit Roelof and Jerry Freeman:


When time allows, Gerrit and his family make the break to the Detroit Lake area and other parts of Oregon where hunting and fishing are the order of the day. Gerrit has a way with words that is drawn from both education and life experience. While Gerrit has a full time career in law enforcement and firefighting before that, he has also taken the time to polish his natural skills at delivering written and visual information. He used to have an outdoor column in the South Salem Post. He has also written regular articles for Oregon Fishing & Hunting News and Gerrit's experience in life is both awe-inspiring and honorable. Gerrit is likable, uniquely qualified, energetic and down to earth. He helps fill the void when it comes to articles about all of the amazing things Oregon has to offer those who have a connection with nature; be it through hiking, fishing, photography, hunting, or so many other outdoor activities here.

Jerry Freeman is part of a new generation of dedicated news photographers who are entering the Internet news industry as a second career. He shares in common with many people the dream of becoming a visual journalist. Joining the Navy at an early age, and the Oregon Army Guard a few years later, Jerry has a wide range of life experiences. He describes himself as “an old truck driver with a new found passion to bare witness on the world’s events.” Teaming up with he embarks on a new career as a video news photographer and reporter. Stay tuned, and see how it turns out. Jerry seems to exhibit natural talent and is already becoming a published member of the team. You can send Jerry Freeman an email at this address:

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Oregon Firefighter Bob June 30, 2009 2:47 pm (Pacific time)

Outstanding report gentlemen.

Fellow Salemite June 29, 2009 4:13 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you for this great report! I have always had a lot of questions about wildland firefighting and I believe I know significantly more now after watching this interesting report.

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