CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. — If you were around Custer State Park near Bluebell Lodge on Thursday morning, you probably saw some smoke.
The smoke was for an Engine Academy training exercise for the South Dakota Wildland Fire.
The training put on by the SDWF puts the firefighters feet to the fire but as fire officials say, that’s exactly what they want, especially as it pertains to wildfires that can come up during the summer.
The training, which lasts around five days, teaches firefighters to use one of their most important tools – the fire engine – to their advantage.
“Today is kind of a culmination of what we’ve been doing the last three days and that is training our seasonal engine crews to be efficient in firefighting operations, particularly in the use of their engines to suppress wildfire,” said Jay Wickham, the Assistant Chief of Operations of SDWF.
The training — extensive.
A list of things for firefighters to keep an eye on and watch.
“They have to change a tire, they have to be able to learn how to jump, you know, their vehicle if it’s dead, they work on the specifics on where their pump pressure is,” Wickham said.
In the midst of the pressure in leadership roles that these firefighters face, an even greater challenge presents itself.
They don’t even know each other, due to the existence of four separate district offices in South Dakota. That can pose a big threat when communicating when trying to extinguish a fire, especially for these firefighers who look to have an active summer.
“These guys are going to see each other this summer on a fire, it’s almost guaranteed they’re going to see each other, the fact that they know each other’s name, they fact that they can talk to each other, have worked together, have an understanding of each other, that’s a big reason why we do what we’re doing here,” Wickham said.
Training and challenging these firefighters as a long, dry fire season awaits.