NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – North Myrtle Beach firefighters spent the day Wednesday alongside the South Carolina Forestry Commission, as the two agencies conducted a special field portion of a wild land firefighter training course.
The exercises fall alongside the one-year anniversary of the Horry County Wildfire coming under control.
Throughout the day, firefighters gained valuable hands-on experience learning how to construct firebreaks, also known as man-made paths through a wooded area. South Carolina Forestry says the cross-training is one of many positive results to come from the lessons learned during the historic wildfire of 2009 in Horry County.
"I hate to say that this was an eye-opening experience last year, but it was something that gave us the incentive to start the training," North Myrtle Beach Chief Tom Barstow said.
Barstow says the department began online wild land firefighting courses shortly after the wildfire. He says they are looking to ultimately get all firefighters certified.
"This is one point, one factor, that I think is going to be very important in our progress," Barstow said. "We're mostly a municipal fire department and we deal mainly with buildings. But with the wild land/urban interface we have now in the city it's something that we really need to be concerned about."
Firefighter Charles Full agreed: "Structural firefighting is totally different tactics," he said. "You're looking out for totally different types of situations and fire behavior than you do in the wild land."
Working out of fire station No. 4, Full says he came to North Myrtle Beach with a background of wild land firefighting in New Jersey.
"The topography and the fuel type sets that we have here are about exactly the same as New Jersey," he said. "So the potential I recognized right away."
At the same time, Full says he was not surprised city firefighters were not being trained on wildfires.
"It's very common throughout the country," Full said. "You see a lot of fire departments that get caught with the times where the city grows faster than they're ready for."
After learning the lessons of 2009, however, and watching the town stretch farther into rural areas, Full says he is excited to see his fellow firefighters take on new training.
"I think we're on the right path," Full said.
He says at this point the main goal is to get the training and get the knowledge to firefighters to keep them safe.
The training exercise covered firebreak construction, familiarity with the concepts of fire breaks, wild land firefighting tools, safety on the fire line and communication on the fire line.
The field portion was conducted between 9 a.m. and noon on the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, which was affected greatly by the Highway 31 fire last year.