North Carolina

North Carolina

Wildfire Drill at North Carolina Refuge Sharpens Skills

2007

Volunteer firefighters are put to the test on a simulated car crash that starts yet another wildfire (indicated by smoke bombs) during a wildland fire drill on Pocosin Lakes NWR. (USFWS)

Volunteer firefighters are put to the test on a simulated car crash that starts yet another wildfire (indicated by smoke bombs) during a wildland fire drill on Pocosin Lakes NWR. (USFWS)

“Fire!”

Well, not really but 42 people from eight agencies did turn out with lights whirling on August 11 for a wildland-urban interface fire drill on Lake Phelps at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service organized the drill with the help of the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources (NCDFR) and Washington County Emergency Management. Drill participants included employees from Pocosin Lakes and Alligator River national wildlife refuges; the NCDFR, volunteer firefighters from Lake Phelps, Pungo River, Creswell, Roper, and Tyrrell and Washington County’s fire marshal and EMS as well as emergency management employees.

While refuge employees and the NCDFR controlled the wildfire, VFD resources were assigned structure protection duties and others role-played as spotter plane, tractor-plow operators, incident commander, and operations chief. Participants used radios to keep the fire scenario as real as possible, communicating changes in fire behavior and updating each other on suppression efforts.

The “wildfire” eventually moved across the road and advanced on nearby houses.  Volunteer firefighters used their training to extinguish several spot fires hear houses that were indicated by smoke bombs. Assigned observers also threw kinks into the fire drill, including a flat tire on fire engine, a smoke-caused car wreck (with injuries and fire), and a “heart attack” suffered by a volunteer firefighter due to overexertion.

The drill lasted about three hours, and was funded by the Department of the Interior’s Ready Reserves program. Participants used the standard Incident Command System to plan the suppression.

An After Action Review, which is required on real fires, revealed what participants learned about communication, response time and procedures.

The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to hold more drills at Pocosin Lakes and other refuges in the area to improve efficiency and integration between agencies when fighting wildland fires.

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