Oklahoma firefighters leading the way with updated training to fight wildfires

A fire burns April 18 near Oakwood, Oklahoma. (KOKH/Wayne Stafford)

This year, we've seen massive wildfires in California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma. According to the U.S. Forestry Service, these catastrophic blazes are projected to burn twice as many acres by 2050, which is why some people say it's time to rethink firefighting strategies to better protect forests and homes.

"Unfortunately, fires today, we’ve seen a lot more aggressive fires than we have in the past," said Monte Tadlock, an instructor with the OSU Fire Service Training (OFST).

It's made firefighting more complicated, with drought to deal with and increasing number of homeowners moving into what's called the wildland urban interface, where fires are more likely.

"So firefighters are trying to learn the best ways to battle that, because you’re not going to tell people you can’t build somewhere," said Dr. Erick Reynolds, director of the OFST.

In the past, there's typically been two very different firefighting camps - the urban departments that know how to handle structure fires and the rural departments who take care of wildfires. Now, firefighters often need to know both techniques, and Oklahoma is on the forefront of that culture change.

"Let’s say the wildland firefighter is out in the open pasture lands and then it moves into the urban area, well a firefighter needs to be able to progress from one style of firefighting from the next style in a seamless action," Tadlock said.

OFST works with new and veteran firefighters across the state to make sure they can handle any situation, which is especially important for volunteer fire departments.

"There are urban firefighters that will probably never fight wildland firefighters, but in Oklahoma typically you’re going to find firefighters have to do both of those skills," said Dr. Reynolds. "That’s just the way it is, the world we live in in Oklahoma."

As firefighters train harder to take care of the people they serve, they need the community's help.

"If a homeowner is very proactive and keeps their property neat and clean and makes sure everything’s done to the best as possible, then there’s more of a chance that we’ll be able to salvage their house and defend it," said Tadlock.

There are several easy things people can do to help protect their home from a fire:

  • Plant shrubs and trees a good distance from your home
  • Keep grass mowed short
  • Clean leaves out of your gutters and off your roof
  • Brush, firewood, picnic tables, and other combustibles should be kept away from structures too
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