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'Real world application': Billings firefighters simulating wildland fires for training at Riverfront Park

Firefighters getting ready to start their training at Riverfront Park
Posted at 5:29 PM, May 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-03 09:50:29-04

BILLINGS — The Billings Fire Department is getting ready for a busy time of the year doing extra training at Riverfront Park this week ahead of wildland fire season.

“We are simulating a wildland fire and just making sure we’re all in check for if when this situation occurs. So we have a wide array of situations going on. There’s guys working on their incident command, there’s also us putting our hands on the pump to get more familiar with it, us newer guys. And again we just, we look to the older guys for some experience and wisdom,” said Austin Ray, a Billings firefighter, on Tuesday. “I’d say it transitions pretty well because we try to simulate a real-life experience and we have a lot of guys that have had a lot of experience."

Ray, a 25-year-old living in Billings, is coming up on his second year as a Billings firefighter and also attended this training last year.

Austin Ray
Austin Ray

“(The training is) pretty fun. I mean the fire department, we’re always having fun. Especially getting out in this nice weather is a good time too,” Ray said. “It’s the best job in the world."

According to Ray, this training helps both the new firefighters and veterans.

"(The older guys) pass it down to us and simulate these situations. Saying, ‘Hey, this is a real-world application,’ so we’re able to simulate that in our trainings, and not just be going through the hoops. Like, sometimes you feel like you’re just kind of going through, but these are situations where it’s happened in real life,” Ray said.

Firefighters meeting before training
Firefighters meeting before training

From getting extra practice with chainsaws cutting down brush and trees, to learning how to pull water from a nearby source if needed, this training helps the firefighters prepare for whatever a fire call could have in store. It's also a way to gain experience from seasoned veterans like Dan Hauf.

“Wildland fire is a big part of our department and it’s a big part of what we do. So there’s a lot of wildland-urban interfaces around here, so we need to do our annual refresher training every year and get guys up to speed with changes in the rules of what we’re doing. So this is our time to do the training and get them all up to speed,” said Dan Hauf, a Billings firefighter, on Tuesday. “So we have to do the training every year, it’s just part of our deal. Some guys will actually be red-card certified. So if they get red-card certified, so they’ve gone through this training, they’ve done the pack test, and they’ve got all of the appropriate hours, then they’re red-card certified so they can actually go out and fight fire outside of the county. And potentially in the state and other states."

Dan Hauf
Dan Hauf

Hauf is an engineer for the department and has been a firefighter in Billings for more than 10 years. But there are no actual fires lit at the training— it's where Hauf says it's good to have an imagination.

“When we do this training, it’s hard because we’re trying to simulate everything. And so a lot of it, the guys have to play into it and they have to play into their imagination, right? We’ll give them the card that shows kind of like what they’re supposed to see, and you know what they're supposed to be doing. But the more they play into it, the better the scenario turns out to be," Hauf said.

Playing into their imagination, and gaining necessary experience before the real deal.

"There’s some guys that enjoy the wildland fire more than structure and it obviously goes the other way. But me personally, I think I enjoy wildland more than structure,” Ray said. “Sometimes they’re fast-paced, but also I think it’s important to kind of look back, take your time, and address the situation appropriately."