As summer approaches, the risk of blazing wild land fires in the Key Peninsula region increases dramatically. Such fires are capable of wiping out acres of land. To combat this, The Key Peninsula Fire Department is preparing a team of wild land firefighters who are prepared to fight wild land fires in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Strike Team Leader Chuck West, who has been fighting wild land fires for 24 years, says that the Key Peninsula is ripe for forest fires this summer.
“Usually they’re caused by people through campfires and people burning something in their back yard and leaving a fire unattended,” said West.
To be a member of what’s known as the wild land team, you need to be state certified. This requires a 40-hour training course to become “red carded” as a wild land firefighter type II. The training is half classroom instruction and the other half hands-on training working with hand tools cutting fire trails.
Proceeding to the next level requires more advanced classes as well as live fire experience. West admits that the training process is time consuming but necessary since the fire fighters put their lives in each other’s hands.
West, who began wild land firefighting 24 years, says he got involved out of necessity. “When I started working here we had a lot of wild land fires,” said West. This lead to a partnership between KPFD and other fire districts throughout Pierce County and became the Pierce County Wild Land Taskforce where West became an instructor for new recruits.
West recalls a particular incident in which he and his team had to fight a fire in northeastern Washington. On the way home from fighting the fire, they were immediately faced with the challenge of fighting a fire on I-90 in Snoqualmie Pass and another fire that struck in Spanaway.
Since West has climbed the ranks of the wild land team, his role has shifted more to the administrative side. However, he says his firefighting days are far from over. “Last year I went on my first deployment in several years and I caught the fever again, so I am back to taking classes and carrying a task book myself,” said West.