Montana National Guard soldiers train for wildland firefighting

Posted at 8:02 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-22 14:11:39-04

HELENA — Montana Army National Guard soldiers wrapped up a week of training Friday, to get them prepared if they’re needed for wildfire duty.

37 Guard members took part in “Red Card” certification training at Fort Harrison, to show they can do the work of a wildland firefighter.

The weeklong program began Monday with a “pack test” – where they had to carry a 45-pound pack three miles in 45 minutes. After three days of classroom instruction, they moved on to practical training Friday.

Duane Turk, a contractor with Sterling Systems, helped the soldiers practice building control lines with hand tools, using drip torches and flares to set backfires and setting up emergency fire shelters.

“It’s really great to see how effective it is, because before I didn’t fully know what firefighters were doing out there,” said Spc. Shelby Koether. “I knew they were out there doing some stuff, but now I have a better insight of what they’re doing and a much better understanding.”

Koether was one of 28 soldiers getting their Red Card certification for the first time.

“Part of me has thought about doing volunteer firefighter, and then when my unit offered me the chance to come learn the class and everything, I jumped right on it,” she said.

The Guard says these members would most likely be brought in on a major fire to help mop up, allowing other fire crews to focus on direct action. While the Guard hasn’t received any calls for wildfire assistance yet this year, the training means they’ll be ready to help immediately if the need arises.

Koether said she’s glad to go through the training to be ready to provide that help.

“I hope it allows me to be able to go help fellow firefighters and assist, so no more damage really can happen if there’s more hands out there,” she said.