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Pump & Roll: Firefighters rendezvous for spring training

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | May 23, 2024 12:00 AM

Around 75 volunteer firefighters from across Lake County gathered at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire last Friday and Saturday near Pablo to learn new skills and refresh old ones.

Jodi O'Sullivan, public information officer for the City of Polson Fire Department, said the event was organized by the Lake County Fire Association, in association with the Division of Fire and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. She said 13 agencies were represented at the gathering, including departments from Rollins, Polson (both rural and city), St. Ignatius, Ronan, Bigfork, Charlo, Chief Cliff, Finley Point and Arlee.

O’Sullivan pointed out almost every local fire departments was deployed last summer “when one day we had five different fires going on across the county.”

“We have a big wildland season ahead and we have trucks from everywhere coming to help out,” she added. “This gives us an opportunity to get to know each other and refamiliarize ourselves with the different departments.”

Friday evening’s session was primarily for officers. Lake County Fire Mitigation Coordinator Carey Cooley offered an overview of the Incident Command System that’s used by federal, state and local fire units – as well as for other emergency situations. It’s important for leadership to understand the command structure “which grows and shrinks as your incident grows and shrinks.”

On Saturday, firefighters engaged in pump-and-roll exercises, learned about helicopter operations, and participated in team-building and communication exercises.

“For all levels, from chief all the way down to your first-year firefighter, we had something for them to do,” said Cooley, who is also Rollins fire chief.

Two Rollins volunteers, Breanna Hill and Michael Serra, teamed up to torch a line of dry straw. They were followed by two pumper trucks, with firefighters walking along-side using water to extinguish the blaze in what’s called a “pump-and-roll” exercise.

Hill, a recent recruit, said she’d learned “a lot of safety” during the training, and enjoyed learning about the various kinds of fire trucks.

Serra, a more experienced firefighter, said he appreciated getting to know firefighters from different departments. “And sometimes it's fun too,” he said, pointing to their assignment to ignite the hay, while the crew behind them quenched the fire with water. Plus, practice helps them prepare for the real thing.

“When you're going to a big call and you kind of get that panic setting in, that's always a little worrisome,” he said. “But getting the fire out is kind of the reward at the end.”

Cooley remembers attending these spring fire trainings as a teenager with her dad, the former Rollins fire chief. There was a break, she says, but organizers decided to start them again due to the longer and more intense fire seasons.

“As a fire chief and as a county employee who's in charge of fire-related things, the relationship-building that this exercise offers us is irreplaceable,” Cooley said. “I know now that if I end up on a fire with these guys, I know them, I've worked with them, I know their faces, I know we've all had the same training.”

“We learned tactics and operations and we learned all kinds of things,” she added. But at the crux of the training is its power to foster trust and cement relationships. “It really is key to us being able to survive these wildfire seasons.”