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Friday, May 6, 2016

Outdoor firefighters brave chill for Academy training

Friday, January 18, 2013

Firefighter students put together a mobile pump on Thursday. They were taking part in a leadership skills class.
(T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds) [Order this photo]
Nearly 400 people from the outdoor firefighting industry have been conducting training exercises in northern Bedford County this week.

While the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy hosts firefighter training year-round, this time of year is always busy.

The training this week is being run by the Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy, a coalition of six outdoors agencies that put on the largest single training event each year at the state academy, said organizer Dale Wine.

Wine is a fire planner and training officer with the U.S. Forest Service's Cherokee National Forest and one of the academy's organizers.

Hundreds attend

A total of 325 students are attending the Wildland Fire Academy this year, said Deanna Hayes, a business management assistant with the U.S. Forest Service's Cherokee National Forest. A total of 45 instructors are conducting the training programs.

This is the 11th year for the Wildland Fire Academy, which is organized by the Cherokee National Forest, the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Tennessee Forestry Division, the Kentucky Forestry Division, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Region Four office and the National Park Service's Southeast Region.

The inclement weather this week has been hampering some of the outdoor exercises, including helicopter training on the academy grounds and timber clearing training at Stones River National Battlefield in Rutherford County, officials said.

But most of the training has been running since Jan. 14 despite the weather. Saturday is the final day.

Leader training

Heath Thomas, from the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests in Arkansas, is one of those leading training exercises. Thomas was instructing students Thursday in leadership development, focusing on teamwork building while students operated a mobile water pump. Thomas, who oversees a crew of five in Arkansas, said he has been a government firefighter for 15 years.

Jared Staggs, a firefighter with eight years of experience from the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee, said the academy is a great way to build leadership skills.

"It's a good way to get a lot of people together and build the leaders of tomorrow," said Staggs, who is attending the academy as a student.

Staggs is a "Cherokee Hotshot," a member of a highly trained fire suppression crew which responds to forest fires and natural disasters around the country.

A place to train

The state fire academy, on Unionville-Deason Road, is comprised of 330 acres and has conference rooms, classrooms, labs, wooded areas, dorms and a dining hall, according to its website. The state academy also has a full-service fire hall with fire engines for training purposes, and trains 8,000 firefighting and law enforcement students a year, said Roger Hawks, executive director.

John Holloran, one of the instructors for the helicopter class, is a helicopter manager for the Cherokee National Forest. The state fire academy has provided an invaluable place for training, and the local citizens have been very friendly, he said.

"It's nice the state has a facility like this we can use," he said.

It can be hard to find a facility for training that will allow helicopter use, Holloran said.

Largest group

The Tennessee-Wildland Fire Academy is held every year at the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy. From left are organizers Robin P. Bible from the Tennessee Forestry Division and Dale Wine. Deanna Hayes and Shelly Parrish from the U.S. Forest Service.
(T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds) [Order this photo]
The Wildland Fire Academy is the largest group that uses the state academy, said Robin P. Bible, a safety and training unit leader with the Tennessee Forestry Division and one of the training event's organizers. The Wildland Fire Academy started using the state facility ever since it opened in 2002, he said.

"We were the first group in here," Bible said. "We had been looking for a training area. The plan was to go back and forth from Tennessee one year and Kentucky one year, but once everyone got down here and saw this facility and liked it, we set up here" for good.

The academy's classes provide training for firefighters of all skill levels, Wines said, providing opportunities for advancement. And since about 18 classes are offered at once, it's very affordable for the students to attend instead of taking the classes one at a time.

Cost effective

The Wildland Fire Academy can conduct its training for roughly half of what it would cost somewhere else, Bible said, because the state academy has a barracks and cafeteria.

Some of the firefighters stay at hotels in Bedford and Rutherford counties since the barracks do not accommodate everyone.

"It's worked out well for us," Bible said.