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W.Va. Guard’s 249th Band trains on wildland fire suppression

By Edwin Wriston | West Virginia National Guard | Oct. 8, 2019

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – More than 20 members of the West Virginia Army National Guard's 249th Army Band completed wildland fire suppression training led by the West Virginia Division of Forestry Oct. 4.

The three-day training at the Morgantown Readiness Center was to prepare for a large-scale wildland or forest fire in West Virginia, which is under a state of emergency due to moderate drought conditions.

Since June, West Virginia has received 2 to 5 inches less rainfall than normal and 5 to 7 inches less in some areas of the state. As a result, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued a burn ban that severely limits outdoor burning statewide and declared a state of emergency for all 55 counties in West Virginia.

"This training is important to West Virginia right now due to the abnormally dry period and drought conditions we are experiencing throughout the state," said M. Rodger Ozburn, assistant regional forester with the West Virginia Division of Forestry. "In the event of a major fire, having the trained auxiliary manpower provided by the WVNG gives us at forestry the ability to supplement our own resources and better respond to large-scale events."

The training covered basic wildland firefighting techniques, including understanding fire behavior, suppression tactics, crew organization, communications, and crew safety and awareness. The goal was for Guard Soldiers to be able to operate on a fire line side-by-side with Division of Forestry personnel.

"This training gives our personnel and Forestry personnel the opportunity to work together to establish relationships and trust –elements that are critical in any combat situation, whether in a war zone or in a forest fire," said Warrant Officer 1 Jeremiah Bennett, commanding officer of the 249th Army Band.

"Our Soldiers work as force multipliers should the fire season become bad and forestry numbers get stretched to unsafe levels," Bennett said. "We are able to provide trained backup to step in and assist them. This is a perfect example of how the WVNG integrates with our partner agencies at the state level to serve the citizens of the state."

Ozburn said the WVNG has been activated numerous times during his career to help the Division of Forestry.

"They are always ready, always willing to step in and help us do whatever it takes to complete the mission," he said. "We are proud and happy to have them on our team."