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Mississippi Forestry Commission hosts training for Wildland Firefighters across U.S.

Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission is hosting a training academy for Wildland Firefighters from across the U.S.

The Southern Area Geographic Area Heavy Equipment Operator Academy (GHEOA), has been running from October 11-19 at the Southern Regional Fire Training Center.

This year will mark the fourth consecutive year of the GHEOA.

The GHEOA creates an avenue for inter-agency partners to receive consistent heavy equipment training, improving and standardizing the training options available to the Wildland Firefighting Community.

32 students and eight task force leaders took part in the academy.

Randy Giachelli who is the Incident Commander & Mississippi Forestry Commission Fire Chief said that the academy teaches students everything that they need to know and gives them hands-on experience as well.

“We teach them everything from binding the tractor down,” said Randy Giachelli. “We have MDOT showing them the laws, and how they need to bind the equipment down, from that to suppression tactics with the fire, actually getting in the seat and showing them how to use the dozer blade, how to use the fire plow, how to get on a slope and how to feel that incline and feel that decline and what’s that tipping point on the tractor to feel that. We also go all the way through with rehab, which is, when the fire is over, we need to rehab this fire lane. It’s from start to finish.”

Giachelli added that while people come from across the U.S. to learn from Mississippians for their skills using bulldozers, they are also learning from the attendees from other states.

“The southern states are dozer country,” said Giachelli. “We use heavy equipment on almost every fire, so we have some very, very experienced operators. So, guys can come here and get that knowledge and take it back to their home unit, so we have a California guy learning from us and on the flip side, we are training heavy equipment bosses to go to California, so we will bring that knowledge out there with the heavy equipment bosses, just like the California guy is taking that knowledge out there. It’s great because we want that knowledge to spread across the U.S. that’s the main goal, it’s to get the correct tactics, the right tactics and make a safer firefighter.”

The course is designed to be a hands-on, seat-in-the-equipment, multi-scenario paced training, with individual coaching and guidance.

“From start to finish, everything is a training opportunity,” said Giachelli.

Crews have gone to Montana earlier this year, and some single resources have also gone to Mississippi, however, Giachelli said that they are keeping their attention on the Magnolia state.

“Right now California is hot, but Mississippi is gearing up for their fall fire season,” said Giachelli. “We are kind of holding our resources here to hold down the state.”

Giachelli said that some fires are starting to pop off and that they are gearing up their resources to fight the Mississippi fires.

In 2016, there were 2,297 wildfires that were suppressed and 33,574 acres burned.

“The public doesn’t see all the small fires, they hear about the big ones on the news, but like I’ve said before, that small fire is just as dangerous as a big fire,” said Giachelli.

The Forestry Commission said that the safety and training benefits of attending the GHEOA are invaluable for Wildland Firefighters.

The GHEOA is managed by a Type-3 Interagency Management Team that encourages collaboration between several state and federal agencies throughout the Southeast, including the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the U.S. Forest Service.

“This is the second time Mississippi has hosted the Academy,” said Giachelli. “It creates an avenue for multiple federal and state agencies and cooperators to receive consistent training to improve the Wildland Firefighting Community. The goal of this training is to produce safer and more effective heavy equipment operators. We are proud to have four MFC Wildland Firefighters accepted into the inter-agency training Academy this year.”

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