Wild Skills Junior Wildland Firefighter: Hood River RECAP

Kickstarted by an idea to spin off our successful Junior Ski Patrol program, SheJumps Wild Skills along with the help of dedicated volunteer Meaghan Gaffney, USDA and Oregon Wildland Firefighters created Junior Wildland Firefighter; a day camp that introduces girls to the facets of wildland firefighting while interacting with the strong women of the firefighting community.

The day camp mimicked the experience of a hand crew throughout the day. In a real fire situation, a hand crew of 20 or so people is broken into squads of 5-7 people.  Each hand crew has a “crew boss.” In the mornings the crew boss attends an incident briefing and then comes back to the crew to brief the rest of the crew on expected weather, current and expected behavior of the fire and what the mission for the day is. From there the crew hikes onto the fire line.  Once on the line, the squads will breakout from each other. Each squad has a specially trained “type one firefighter” in command; we call this person the squad boss. Sometimes the squads will have similar assignments or other times completely different.

First thing in the morning, girls were divided into squads by age, the lead firefighter acted as their squad boss and SheJumps volunteers helped manage the group. All teams took part in the morning briefing lead by Lauren Clark who explained the weather outlook, day’s mission and goals for the day. Next up, Loretta Duke (who’s been fighting fires since 1989!) discussed and demonstrated how to properly build a fire. Ranger Cat jumped in and had the girls identify burnable, small diameter fuel for the fire and taught them about the fire triangle. The triangle illustrates the three elements a fire needs to ignite: heat, fuel, and an oxidizing agent (usually oxygen). A fire naturally occurs when the elements are present and combined in the right mixture.

In no time, the fire was blazing and Loretta called on Lidi from the Central Oregon unit to put it out. During this time, Lidi and the rest of the squad leaders introduced themselves and shared how they got into fighting fires. Many didn’t even know it was a possible career when they stumbled into it. Thanks to events like this, young girls not only gain fire safety and outdoor skills but have first hand experience with women who are truly leading by example in their field.

After the meeting, we were treated to a surprise visit from the local wildland fire engine. Each team got a tour of the engine, it’s components and even got to spray the engine hose!

After touring the engine and spraying the hose, the squads hiked out to the ‘fire line’ which were the stations that we set up. Each team spent approximately 1 hour at each station learning vital outdoor skills.

Navigation was headed up by Kati Santini. The girls learned directional basics, familiarized with topographic maps, how to shoot a bearing and then follow that line until they reach the flagging that has the next bearing. For this station we set up two different compass courses each ending in a surprise treasure.

First Aid led by Adrienne Vought & Danielle Lipsky. At this station, girls learned about first responder practices, minor splinting ideas, how to stop bleeding, and basic first aid kit supplies. It’s also very important for firefighters to know about hydration and electrolytes so we talked about that and what to do if someone is displaying signs of heat stress. A favorite of the teams was creating a make-believe injury and the team responding to it with the correct remedy. Injuries range from being ran over by a truck to bear attacks – it gets pretty wacky!

Team Building & Communication was directed by each squad. They worked through many variations of the Hot Fire Game where each team worked together to find a way across the hot fire (the ground) using only the boards they were provided with to make a bridge. If they step off the boards they must go back to start line! This prompted talk about times where they have experienced challenge and triumph as a teammate and individual. Girls also learned about radio communication and the important role it plays in wildland fires.

Weather & Fire Behavior led by Meaghann Gaffney taught weather basics, how weather & environment affects fire behavior, and situational awareness. The teams started off by discussing what types of weather and terrain affect fires. Then walked through the trees, tuning into nature to notice the slightest chances in wind direction, speed, temperature change and cloud cover. They studied fire weather cloud charts, identified the clouds in the skies, talked about lightning’s role in starting wildfires and discussed what to do if we get caught in one. The station wrapped up with a dynamic fire board demonstration, placing matches on two boards to demonstration a ‘thin’ and ‘dense’ forest. Then lighting them and increasing the slope to see the effect to each.

The day was supposed to wrap up with a group demo of line construction and chainsaw demonstration but 4 of our all-stars were called out to an area fire! The all lady engine crew promptly responded to the Lambert Road fire. The next available resources would have come from Portland to fill out the engine for this fire. The fire ended up being 7 acres and needed lots of ‘mop up’ to be completely put out. We were bummed to miss out on the planned demonstrations but stoked to watch these strong women roll out and get the job done!

Sticking true to the Wild Skills moto of ‘work with what you got’ we shifted gears and fit in a few extras: a colorful lesson in the 10 Essentials, review of Leave No Trace principles and a focused sound mapping exercise that required the girls to observe their surrounding only by what they could hear.

The day wrapped with a AAR ‘After Action Review’ that recapped the day of learning, challenges and rewarding experiences. For some, their favorite part was the fire board experiment and others it was their first encounter with using a compass. Each participant was presented with a Wild Skills Junior Wildland Firefighter certificate & congratulatory handshake!

This event was made possible thanks to the commitment of longtime SheJumps volunteer, Meaghann Gaffney, who put in the time & effort to create the curriculum with Wild Skills Director, Christy Pelland. Gaffney also reached out to her contacts at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (CRGNSA) who were already looking for opportunities to create more youth education programs in response to last year’s devastating Eagle Creek Fire. Gaffney’s desire to provide outdoor adventures and educational opportunities for young girls continues to inspire all of us at SheJumps. We are incredibly grateful to have her as a teammate.

If you think this program is as RAD as we do and want to bring it to your area. Contact Wild Skills Director, Christy Pelland, for more details: cpelland@shejumps.org

Special thanks to our presenting partner: Clif Bar

Event Partners United States Forest Service and United States Department of Agriculture,

Supporting partners Adventure Medical Kits & GoGo Squeez