Annual Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Academy opens at Northeastern Junior College

Annual Colorado Wildland Fire and IncidentAcademy opens 
at Northeastern Junior College

8 January 2007

published by

USA — The Hays Student Center at the Northeastern Junior College wastransformed into a major command center Saturday with all the makings ofcoordinating a major disaster — any kind of disaster — as the ColoradoWildland Fire and Incident Academy got under way.

John Mangalonzo/Journal-Advocate
Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy Public Information Officer Larry Helmerick talks with participants of the basic fire fighting course during Saturday’s session at Northeastern Junior College. More than 700 participants from 30 states are expected to attend this week. John Mangalonzo/Journal-Advocate
Representing the state of South Dakota, Matt Branch shows a three-dimensional simulated wildland fire used for fire training. The program, Branch said, is expected to be made available to fire departments across the country in the next 12 months. John Mangalonzo/Journal-Advocate
The attendees and organizers of the fire academy will treat the exercise as if they were out on assignment, complete with incident management centers, planning and logistics, PIO Larry Helmerick said.

From what used to be known as The Great Plains Wildfire College, the 2007academy would tackle not only specialized training on wildfires but on all kindsof emergency situations said public information officer Larry Helmerick.

“It’s also incident management,” Helmerick said. “In all kinds ofincidents.”

What differs this academy from other training courses is the fact thatorganizers, instructors and the students would treat this weeklong academy as ifthey were on a real emergency situation.

Several rooms at NJC Hays Student Center had the makings and the structure of areal and operational command center complete with staff separated from incidentcommand, logistics and planning.

“We treat the academy like we are out on assignment,” Helmerick said.“It’s a very rigorous process.”

From the 30 states represented in the academy, 34 percent are frommultijurisdictional fire departments, 40 percent are from federal agencies, 17percent are from state, county and city agencies and 9 percent are privatecitizens.

Helmerick said that over 700 people are expected to attend during the durationof the academy and estimated around $475,000 pumped into the local economy.

“We kind of found a home here and we are glad to be here. We have receivedgreat support from the community,” Helmerick said.

Academy Coordinator Wendy Fischer said that through the years of coming toSterling, the academy had developed a good rapport with NJC and the community.

“It’s a great group of people to work with. It’s kind of like a family,”Fischer said.

She added that there are two academies each year: one in the summer to be heldin Alamosa and this the winter academy in Sterling.

Saturday’s classes saw 350 students from basic fire fighting to specializedtraining, equipment and emergency management.

Along with the federal agencies and bigger departments, Sterling sent nine ofits finest men, members of the Sterling Fire Department including Fire Chief BobOlme who also happens to be the incident commander in the academy.

However, attending classes did not keep the SFD indoors as they keep one earlistening to their radio for any emergency calls throughout the day.

“It’s not only upgrading of skills but networking as well. It’s a place tocome, talk, learn and network,” Helmerick said adding that job opportunitiesfrom other departments would be announced through the week for those who areinterested.

Like any other incident management, the day from Saturday would start with anearly morning briefing on what’s going on and plans for the day ahead.

“Plus we need to make sure that they have a positive experience,” he said.

In one of the classrooms, young minds — 39 students to be exact — gatheredfor the basic fire fighting class.

This group is valuable, Helmerick said, for they are the future of emergencyresponders and that they are making sure that the training they receive issecond to none.

“We need younger people and it’s great to have them,” Helmerick said.

In this day and age of the unexpected, such as terrorist attacks and naturaldisasters, Helmerick said that this collaboration hones their skills, expertiseand cooperation with other departments.

“We are asked to do a lot more things. It can be a fire today, blizzardtomorrow and a terrorist attack the next day. We need to be ready for everything,”he said.

One of the instructors, John Benson of the Boulder Mountain Fire Department saidthat it’s not the individuality that everyone brings to the table but theadded knowledge that they share with each other.

Several vendors from emergency gears, souvenir T-shirts and other emergencyparaphernalia were also on hand and will be for the rest of the week.

A silent auction of several donated items are available for bidding with 100percent of the proceeds going to the fire fighter fund that helps fire fightersand their families who are experiencing hard times.

The public is welcome to bid.

What started out as an idea 10 years ago, a group of emergency responders armedwith different training specialties founded the academy after realizing a needfor continued training.

According to the group’s Web site, since it’s humble beginnings, the academyhas provided training for more than 15,000 students. After Sept. 11, 2001, theacademy’s board has constantly modified their curriculum to pattern on theever changing need of those they serve.

“The value of incident management training has been reinforced numerous timeswith unprecedented fire seasons, the Columbia Shuttle Recovery and Hurricane’sIvan, Katrina and Rita respectively,” their Web site stated.

NJC Business and Industrial Coordinator Heidi Zajic-Eckland said that theacademy also benefits the college who are looking into expanding their firescience program which equals more enrollment.

Zajic-Eckland said that Colorado students attending the academy can also earnextra college credits through the academy. The same goes for out-of-statestudents.

“It’s a good partnership,” Zajic-Eckland said.

Next week, Helmerick said, several field training are scheduled from rescue,fire lines and controlled burns.

It’s not all business for the attendees, as a social hosted by the LoganCounty fire chiefs is slated for Tuesday, Olme said. A banquet on Wednesday iscurrently being planned by SFD and the staff of the academy for all participants.

Helmerick said that by the end of the week, participants would go back to theirrespective departments armed with the latest knowledge they can share and use tobenefit the people they serve.

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