Young Reporters had the chance to interview wildland firefighter Andrea McKenna. She is in her sixth season as a wildland firefighter and engine boss, and has been an EMT since 2014. McKenna shared many of the tools and techniques that firefighters use.
As an engine boss, she runs the engine, which provides structure protection and pumps water to the hoselays for the firefighters to put water on the hot spots. Other roles include the lookout, an important role responsible for taking the weather, keeping the others informed on where the fire is going and what it is doing, and warning of any danger.
Wildland firefighters use many techniques such as mopping, wearing special gear, and “fighting fire with fire,” as McKenna calls it. Mopping is where the firefighters put their hands in the dirt and feel for any heat, and then put water on the hot spots. These hot spots have the potential to bring the fire out again if there is wind or more heat. Some trees weakened by the fire, called hazard trees, are very dangerous and can come down on people and injure someone. Another example of fighting fire with fire is burning any fuel and turning it to the “black”, or the burned part of ashes, in between the head of the fires. This reduces the amount of fuel the wildfire has to burn when it gets to the area. All firefighters have to wear certain personal protective equipment, carry their water, extra gear, and shielding tools in case of getting trapped in a fire.
Various types of engines or vehicles hold different gallons of water. McKenna showed reporters a picture of one engine’s pump panel, which controls the water flow to get it into the hose lays. Water tenders hold up to 5,000 gallons of water, and the engines use their pumps to suck up the water, refilling or drafting. Firefighters use portable pumps , too. In the skies, a Chinook helicopter holds up to 500 gallons of water and can drop the water from above.
A SEAT, or single engine aircraft tanker, was shown in one of McKenna’s pictures. It was dropping Phos-Chek, a retardant, which checks the forward progress of the fire before the hand crews or engines can get in the area. The retardant cools the spots off and keeps the fire in check for the others.
A Sikorsky is another type of aircraft, which drops large amounts of water as well. Medical helicopters have a different job, and they are used for emergencies, like when it’s not possible to carry an injured person out of the mountains or some other remote place.
Heavy equipment like excavators and bulldozers are used to create firebreaks for containment, to keep control and move dirt. One cool hand tool that serves two jobs is the Pulaski, with an axe on one end and a grubbing tool on the other.