Fire Academy at Coal Ridge High School

Fire Academy at Coal Ridge High School
Posted on 06/21/2021
Wildland Fire Academy

Wildland Fire Academy hosts summer training at Coal Ridge High School 

The Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy taught 16 classes to 226 firefighters and other emergency responders this week.
Last week at Coal Ridge High School, the Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy held training sessions for entry-level firefighters all the way up to the advanced incident management team. Not only did the program utilize the building while school wasn't in session, but it provided emergency responders with much-needed training in order to qualify for and move up to other positions.

The event, which was cancelled last year due to COVID-19, was hosted by the Upper Arkansas Valley Wildfire Foundation, a nonprofit that’s fronted by academy administrator Wendy Fischer. According to Fischer, there were 26 states represented last week. “We've had an interesting year, but it was great to at least start the process,” says Fischer. “People really needed to come in and get training. We try to spend the time to make sure that we can get folks the training they need so that they can move to that next level, that next position.” Fischer explained how important it is to train people who didn’t get any last as we go into fire season.

The Academy offered more of a minimal skeleton of classes for last week. They had to submit a COVID protocol to Garfield County Public Health for approval in regards to having the event at the school. As time went on, the Academy had to make sure it stayed within guidelines as protocols changed. 

“Things really changed from last week to this week in regards to people being fully vaccinated and not having to wear masks,” says Fischer. “We told people that if they were partially vaccinated, they didn't have to wear masks. A lot of our emergency responders had been vaccinated already, so we had a great opportunity to meet and be in this type of environment.”

While most classes were taught inside the classrooms at Coal Ridge, the Academy also offered a few field exercises. The entry-level firefighter class went out to deploy their fire shelter practice and learn how to use their tools. One class actually camped for a night to replicate what it’s like to go out as a crew for an incident. “Some of the students who were taught about Storm King and what happened in the South Canyon Fire were inclined to go hike it,” says Fischer. “That’s just one of the things they took advantage of here within our own area.” There was also a pumps and waters class where students learned how to do drafting with pumps and hoses as well as the proper use and function of that equipment.

The Academy has been in Garfield County three times with the first being held in Carbondale and the others at Coal Ridge. Fischer says they gravitate toward high schools because they’re great for this type of situation. With classrooms, outdoor areas and cafeterias, high schools provide the atmosphere and space that the Academy needs to function. “Lori Hinkle has been my main contact for the school district and she has done so much to make sure that we're comfortable and that we have what we need,” says Fischer. “Mary (McPhee) and her food service staff have also been great. We like to make sure that we recognize the people who support us during that time.”

Even though Coal Ridge was used for a training event, it could easily be utilized for a large-scale event real quickly. The Academy gives the school staff an introduction as to what it would be like to have them there for an incident down the road and what all that entails. In the end, it’s a beneficial experience for everyone involved. “Obviously, we're here to provide training and help people learn, grow and understand the positions that they're in,” says Fischer. “But these are things that we enjoy and get to do together like a family. Most of us have not seen each other since last year so this has been the first week that we’ve been able to get back together. It is so very rewarding.”

The Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy’s mission is to promote safety and integrate the efforts of local, state, federal, tribal, private-sector, and nongovernmental emergency response organizations by utilizing the Incident Command System and facilitating a national approach to domestic incident management by providing both the cognitive and hands-on incident management knowledge, instructed by the nation’s brightest authorities. 

The Academy includes the following interagency partners: Fairmount Fire Protection District; City of Boulder Fire Department – Wildland Fire Division; U.S. Forest Service; Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Park Service; Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control; other local agencies; as well as private individuals.

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