PHS students learn about wildland fires

On Thursday, May 16, 18 fire science students from Portola High School teamed up with Beckwourth Ranger District Fire Department for a day of mock firefighting. The students spent the year learning about fire behavior and their final challenge was to spend the day working in the field to earn their certification with the Forest Service. They cut a 4-foot line between the pretend fire and the rest of he forest with hand tools and chainsaws, all while wearing heavy fire protection gear. Photos submitted
Carolyn Carter

  From the younger days with Smokey Bear to the high school years of fire science, a child’s education is filled with opportunities to learn about fire safety techniques. Portola High School fire science teacher Brad Miller saw a chance to flame that knowledge and turn it into a career opportunity.

  On Thursday, May 16, 18 students from Miller’s class worked with Beckwourth Fire District in a wildland field day to get their Wildland Firefighting Certificate.

  The fire science class is a recently restored addition to the Portola High School curriculum as a part of the Storrie Fire agreement between the Forest Service and Plumas Unified School District. The agreement encourages the schools to further educate and collaborate with the students in the Storrie Fire area to help them better understand fire safety and environmental health.

  Miller said the aim for the class is to give the students the jobs skills and required certifications necessary to get a job with Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. The class encompasses five certification classes and basic education on fire behavior, tree identification and topography.

  Miller said the field day participation makes up about 60 percent of the class. The students left in the morning for the Beckwourth Fire District station. From there they were given hand tools and the thick fire gear and sent out into the woods with Crew One from the fire department.

  The students’ job was to fight a mock fire. There were ribbons tied all around the forest marking where the fire was. Using the ribbons to gauge, the students began cutting 4-foot lines between the mock fire and the rest of the forest.

  Beckwourth Fire District Chief Greg McCaffrey said there was a friendly competition between the crew and the students, as they were both trying to clear their lines quickly.

  “They did awesome,” McCaffrey said. “I was pretty impressed. They were all there to learn.”

  This was the first time the fire department has teamed up with young students to complete what McCaffrey called “the Basic 32,” which means the foundational 32 hours a potential firefighter must complete in order to volunteer or work with a department.

  According to Miller the students have officially received their certifications and, if they are 18, can now work with the Forest Service for the season. Miller also said the fire science class is in the curriculum for next year.

  “Even if they don’t want to get into fire for their career, at least it gives them a job opportunity,” said Miller.

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