Wildland Firefighting Recruits Undergo Tough Training

By Tom Bacon

The State of Idaho, two indian tribes and two federal agencies are teaming up next week to train a new cadre of wild land firefighters. With the advent of the summer wildfire season, the agencies responsible for fighting the fires must bulk up their employee rolls. Next week, somewhere between 80 and a hundred aspiring fire fighters will gather at Camp Lutherhaven on the west side of Lake Coeur d' Alene for a five-day basic training course.

After intensive cramming sessions in the classroom, the students will have a chance to practice what they've learned by attacking small training fires set on state of Idaho land near Mica Bay. The firefighting training school is sponsored by the Idaho Department of Lands, the federal Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service and the Coeur d' Alene and Nez Perce tribes.

The students who pass a final exam next Friday will be qualified as basic wild land firefighters. The pay is also basic, 10 dollars an hour for a standard 40-hour week. But when duty calls, they'll earn time and a half, and time and a quarter for hazardous duty pay.

During an active fire season, a wild land firefighter can earn somewhere between 30 and 40-thousand dollars, but veterans say they earn every penny. And the physical training can be grueling. Recruits must complete a test which requires toting a 45-pound pack three miles in under 45 minutes. Those who have gone through it say it's an arduous workout.

One old-timer who created a website for would-be firefighters put it bluntly - This ain't a cakewalk, folks.
Another veteran warned prospects that - quoting here  -wildland fire beats your body up - it's brutal on the knees and the back.

So far, no major fires have broken out in Idaho, ORegpn or Washington, although huge blazes in the southwest US have charred about three times the acreage burned at the same time last year.
And the season is just getting underway.
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