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Tools of the Trade: Maryland’s Wildland Firefighters

Photo of back of fire truck

View of the back of the fire engine

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service has mobilized wildland firefighters for dispatch throughout the United States since 1974. Participation in this national effort is possible because the agency is able to provide fully trained, certified, and equipped personnel on short notice to any location in the country to assist with protecting lives, property, and natural resources. By participating in this program, state and fire service personnel meet an immediate national need and also gain valuable experience to advance firefighting skills used to suppress wildfires here in Maryland.

The Firefighter: Every year the department develops and maintains a list of qualified personnel who meet or exceed the minimum requirements necessary in order to be eligible for dispatch. An entry level firefighter is required to attend a 40-hour basic firefighter training class. The agency actively recruits department and fire service personnel to participate in this program with many of the participants returning year after year for fire duty. Participants must be department personnel, a volunteer or career firefighter, or a returning fire crew member with a satisfactory evaluation. All individuals are required annually to pass a physical endurance test called the “pack test” and attend an annual firefighter refresher training course. After completing the requirements, an individual is issued a “red card” that lists all the qualified duties that they are eligible to perform on a wildfire incident throughout the United States. Resources are subject to dispatch and mobilization on as little as 12 hours’ notice and can be sent anywhere to assist nationally. All costs associated with assistance provided are reimbursed to the state through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Forest Service.

Photo of wildland firefighters

Maryland wildland firefighters serving in California

Qualified individuals serve as members of Type 2 initial attack crews, fire modules, engine crews, dozer operators, and single resource personnel in both operations and logistics. Most assignments are for 14 days plus travel time, but some personnel can be assigned for up to 21 days on the fireline. An example of what Maryland can provide is the Type 6 engine and its three-member crew of an engine boss, an engine operator, and a firefighter.

The Equipment: The engine pictured above is a 4×4 extended cab diesel truck with a 350-gallon tank and a high pressure pump with 300 feet of ¾-inch booster line and reel. The unit is equipped with emergency lights, siren, and radio communications. It has a 16,000-pound winch bumper, is foam capable, and carries a crew of three. The truck is designed with a flatbed and storage boxes to carry all of the equipment that may be needed on an assignment. These include wildfire hand tools, chainsaw, portable pump, 1,800 feet of various widths of synthetic fire hose, bladder bags with hand pumps, firing devices, personnel gear, fittings and adapters, mechanical tools, and fuel and oil and supplies for all the power equipment. Protective equipment, first aid kits, and a defibrillator are also stocked, along with an ice chest with supplies of water, Gatorade, and ready-to-eat meals. Each crew member has their own personal protective equipment that they wear and carry along with their fireline pack and personal items, including a tent, sleeping bag, and personal gear bag for the duration of the assignment.

Randy Kamp is fire manager for the department’s Forest Service. Article appears in Vol. 23, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, fall 2020.