Minnesota Wildfire Academy Concludes a Successful Week of Training

leadership firefighters
Working through trust building exercises in the Followership to Leadership course.

Grand Rapids, MN, June 12 – The Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS) wrapped up another successful Minnesota Wildfire Academy (Academy) on June 7, 2019. This year over 800 students, trainers and incident management team personnel gathered at the Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, MN to participate in the Academy events. The week long Academy offered 27 courses in campus classrooms and nearby field sites. Training sessions ranged from basic firefighting operations and resolving medical and traumatic incidents during wildland fire suppression, to public information and the coordination of meals for response personnel during a wildfire.

Dating back 19 years, the Academy has hosted thousands of developing wildland firefighting professionals. Participants train with seasoned wildland firefighting instructors using coursework and hands-on simulations. “After doing this for 35 years, I see the value and the need for training my replacements,” said Pete Leschak, Academy training instructor with the Minnesota DNR. “Training is so critical to the wildland firefighting mission. We are always in need of firefighters. Providing training like this through the Academy assures that we can offer students the courses they need to have a successful career,” said Leschak.

Each training course is geared toward preparing wildland firefighters for active wildfire suppression, working with incident command teams in both wildfire and all hazard and incorporating community needs when strategizing fire operation efforts. The 2019 Academy attendees represented 14 states. Local Minnesota firefighters included professionals from state, federal and Tribal land management organizations, along with 19 Minnesota fire departments. Often, local fire departments and wildland firefighters work closely together to protect homes, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources for Minnesota’s rural communities.

power saws firefighters
Students develop power chainsaw tool skills through hands-on training.

This week long Academy incorporates training developed for the incident command system by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Academy includes many of the factors that wildland firefighters encounter during their careers, including leadership, working with incident management teams, and a wide variety of tools and equipment both on the ground and in the air.  

Itasca Community College and University of Minnesota North Central Research/Outreach Center hosted the 2019 Academy. The college campus and U of MN research center land provided an ideal setting for classroom space, open fields to conduct air operation simulations, and a forest environment to practice with chainsaws, pumps, hose, and controlled fire.

firefighter trainee
Basic firefighting course field station.

The Academy is organized by an interagency group of state and federal partners that cooperate to manage wildfire and all-hazard incidents not only in Minnesota, but also nationally, and in special circumstances internationally. This week-long event required incredible logistical planning and support to assure classrooms and trainers were equipped with the tools they needed to teach, meals and snacks for participants, and lodging for over 800 people. MNICS assigned an Incident Management Team (Team) to coordinate the planning and logistics efforts. The Team ran the Academy similar to how an actual wildfire or all-hazard incident would be organized and managed. An incident commander oversaw staff who provided on public information, worked with community businesses and local government organizations, assured  safety for the Academy attendees, and planned for the operations of training sessions. The Team managed the logistics of course materials, meals, and the coordination of field activities. The Team also provided an air operations branch that planned for the helicopters and air support used in the live field training simulations. The simulations included water bucket drops and a mock medical evacuation.

The Minnesota Wildfire Academy is one of 14 academies offered throughout the United States. The significant efforts involved with the coordination and outstanding participation of wildland fire organizations and rural fire departments, instructors and students truly make this a successful event. MNICS looks forward to many more successful years training firefighters and developing the future of wildland firefighting.