Wildfires have been a rising concern worldwide, and the Czech Republic is no exception. With an increasing number of fires, intensified by climate change and other factors, having a trained force ready to combat these challenges becomes essential. In the summer of 2022, the largest wildfire in Czech history (1,060 ha) spurred the country to consider wildfires as a serious issue. Both the national authorities as well as associations and private interests have since engaged in the topic and requested outside assistance both in terms of overall capacity building and governance as well as at practical level with the training of firefighters.
Between September 15th and 17th around 100 firefighters and senior officers gathered in the mountains of Olešnice on the Czech-Poland border for an intensive training camp organized by Priozs Fire and Rescue with training support from the European Forest Institute and the Pau Costa Foundation, and further support from further private companies. Most attendees were Czech volunteer firefighters, a group of professional firefighters and officers, and a contingent of high-ranking officers/colonels from Slovakia.
The training was inspired by and organized in a format based on SNEPs Forest Camp (Poland, 2021 and 2022) co-organized by the WKR project. In the Czech variation, participants navigated between 15-20km over terrain using maps and GPS between five different stations, each offering specialized lessons in aspects of wildfire control. Here's a brief overview of what each station entailed:
Fire Analysis with Sand Table
Firefighting isn’t just about brute force; it's also a game of strategy. The sand table is a dynamic tool that recreates landscapes and allows firefighters to simulate wildfire scenarios. Using a sand table to represent different terrains and fire scenarios, trainers explained the dynamics of fire spread, potential challenges, and strategies to address them. The tactile nature of the sand table allowed for a more in-depth understanding and visualization of the situations, equipping trainees with both theoretical knowledge and practical insights using real situations that the trainers have experienced to be able to compare how trainees address the scenarios verses how the actual situation unfolded.
Self Protection and Fire Shelters
Safety always comes first. This station emphasized the importance of self-protection in the midst of a wildfire. Participants were trained on how to use fire shelters – last-resort protection equipment for firefighters caught in life-threatening situations. A scenario simulating an emergency situation of becoming entrapped by a wildfire emphasized the safety precautions and planning in firefighting operations and what to do as a last-resort possible life-saving measure.
Use of Fire Swatters
Fire swatters, or "flappers" are tools which are now carried by most fire departments around Europe – however the majority of firefighters have never actually trained or used them. The trainees got hands-on practice in effectively using these tools, understanding their importance to use in tandem and how best to use them to achieve maximum efficiency on low-intensity fire.
Hand Tools for Fireline Construction
Constructing a fireline using hand tools is crucial in preventing the spread of wildfires, especially in inaccessible areas or when water is not immediately available. At this station, participants were upon arrival immediately thrown into a chaotic situation with real fire – including spot fires and had to quickly organize themselves to construct fireline around the burning areas. This exercise allowed trainees to understand the physical demands of the task and the strategic thought that goes into selecting the best location and method for the fireline (anchor point, impact of smoke, location, width and quality of the fireline etc.). An After Action Review was conducted with the groups which included another demonstration of how to effectively use the Gorgui tool effectively with the lowest possible effort. Also discussed were the pros and cons of wearing airway protection and wearing backpacks specifically designed for wildland firefighting.
Hose Lays and Series Pumping
This station was all about water delivery systems. Participants learned about the use of portable pumps and portable tanks for water delivery. This exercise included the task of maintaining water pressure, the critical role of series pumping in delivering water to challenging areas with elevation gain, and participants had to conduct hose lays up a steep slope. The lessons here were as much about teamwork and coordination as they were about technique.
Overall, it was encouraging to see the commitment and dedication of the participants and the organizers to better prepare the Czech Republic to respond to the intensified risk of wildfires. As well, this event was a testament to the extended impact of WKR and the activities of the network in bringing together stakeholders with the shared vision of enhancing fire management capacity in their countries and regions while strengthening collaboration across borders.
Photos: Priozs Fire and Rescue, Lindon Pronto and Jesús Morcillo