BOISE, Idaho – More than 60 Idaho National Guardsmen completed wildland firefighting training in Boise in June, bringing the number of Guardsmen available to assist the Idaho Department of Lands in the event the governor declares a state of emergency to approximately 170.
“Part of the appeal of the National Guard is serving the state and there’s not really a better way to do it than to fight wildfires,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Vincelli, Idaho National Guard director of joint/domestic plans and training.
The four-day certification course was offered multiple times throughout June and qualified Soldiers and Airmen to earn an Incident Qualification Card, commonly known as a Red Card certification.
The Idaho National Guard began certifying Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen in 2020.
The training and preparation was put to good use in August 2021 when Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued an emergency declaration and authorized Idaho National Guard firefighters and helicopters to help fight wildland fires across the state.
Eighteen Guard members volunteered to fight fires on the frontlines UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crews dropped more than 200,000 gallons of water on multiple fires. Nearly a dozen Guardsmen also assisted with logistical and operational support in Coeur d’Alene.
Due to current staffing levels for the Idaho Department of Lands and the U.S. Forest Service fire crews, Vincelli anticipates the Idaho National Guard may be called upon again this summer if the demand for wildland firefighters overwhelms state and federal resources. Idaho Guardsmen could also volunteer to serve in other states if they are not needed in Idaho.
The Idaho National Guard created a deep pool of firefighters to ensure the Idaho National Guard is ready to respond to any calls for assistance. Soldiers and Airmen volunteer to serve on missions and often have other commitments due to the part-time nature of their service to the Guard, said Vincelli.
The Idaho Department of Lands, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and the Idaho National Guard developed a partnership a few years ago through a Joint Powers Agreement, which defines the process involved in interagency coordination. The agreement was updated based on lessons learned from last year’s fire season.
To earn their Red Card, Guardsmen must complete two online introduction courses and attend a 32-hour Basic Firefighting and Wildland Fire Behavior course. They also are required to complete a 3-mile ruck march carrying a 45-pound pack in less than 45 minutes.
The IDL and Orchard Combat Training Center firefighters taught the course.
Individuals must recertify annually to maintain their Red Card certification. Guardsmen can also be employed as firefighters in their civilian capacity with a Red Card.