SALINA, Kan. – For the third year, the state of Kansas has expanded its capability to respond to wildland fires, thanks to a partnership between the Kansas National Guard and the Kansas Forest Service.
Together, the agencies conducted the Wildland Firefighting Red Card Certification Course, certifying additional members of the Guard across the state to respond to wildland fires, at the Great Plains Joint Training Center in Salina Sept. 14-18.
Lt. Col. Larry Leupold, director of military support for the Kansas National Guard, said the need for increased wildland firefighting capability stemmed from the major wildland fires in 2016-2017.
“The Starbuck fire and the Anderson Creek fire burned thousands of acres,” Leupold said. “At that point, we realized we needed to have more state-level capabilities and resources.”
The program relies on the expertise and instruction of the Kansas Forest Service.
“What we’re trying to accomplish today is to get more people in Kansas qualified for firefighter level II,” said course instructor Dennis Carlson, assistant fire management officer with the Kansas Forest Service. “A lot of times here in Kansas we talk about how we don’t have a lot of fires, but we do. When we get some of these really big fires, we need a lot more resources.”
For students working toward Red Card certification, the training consisted of four days of classroom training and one day of field training. The field training was comprised of three stations teaching students about fire engines, hose lays, pumps, water sources, digging lines and setting up dip tanks. The day culminated with a controlled burn.
“Fire is an important part of the natural resource management,” Carlson said. “A lot of people think fire is a bad thing, but in order to keep the grass landscape stable and healthy, prescribed burns are needed.”
Not all students were first-time attendees; some were taking their annual recertification, which consisted of only one day of refresher training. Students who completed their respective certification or recertification training are firefighter level II certified and can be called to respond to wildland fires throughout Kansas.
Students also had the option to take the Pack Test – a three-mile hike carrying 45 pounds in less than 45 minutes. Those who pass are eligible to respond to wildland fire emergencies outside the state.
“We could have a disaster in any part of the state, sometimes multiple parts of the state at the same time,” Leupold said. “So it gives us the flexibility to be more responsive to the local communities’ needs by having trained Guardsmen throughout the state.”
This year’s training certified about 35 new students and recertified 20 more. Leupold said the goal is to build a force of 100 Guardsmen who can support other wildland firefighting entities in statewide efforts.
“When we work together at all levels, from the local level up to the state level, that’s where we do our best work,” Leupold said. “It comes down to how we get the right resources, the right capabilities to the right place at the right time to protect our families across the state. The Kansas Forest Service has been a great partner in helping us prepare for that.”
Carlson, a 22-year veteran of the Forest Service, said the partnership benefits the entire state.
“Working together, we can get more people more knowledge about doing wildland firefighting,” Carlson said. “Once you start getting into a situation where resources are needed, you know where to find those resources and bring them together.”
“This is a special part of who we are as the Kansas National Guard,” Leupold said. “Not only do we have to maintain our readiness to protect our citizens by deploying abroad, but we also start here at home when it comes to disasters. Having the opportunity to come out and train and work with our interagency partners like the Forest Service – whether it’s a winter storm, wildland fire, or a world pandemic – this is what the Guard does. This is who we are. It’s something I know all our Guardsmen are very proud of.”