AmeriCorps branching out for training in fighting fires

Published 12:00 pm Monday, August 9, 2010

Wildland firefighting is being added to the repertoire of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members based in Vicksburg.

NCCC teams, who will have a lesser level of training than professional firefighters, will assist other government agencies, River Unit Team Leader Neal Oliver said. Generally, NCCC will be called on to help manage prescribed or controlled burns.

“Controlled burns are used as an ecological land management tool so that certain species of grasses or trees — their seeds need fire to open up and sprout out,” Oliver said.

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Nearly 40 of 160 members of the second class of NCCC members assigned to the one-year-old Vicksburg center were up at 6:30 a.m. Saturday trying out for two firefighting teams. One test was carrying 45-pound backpacks while walking three miles in less than 45 minutes on the track at the YMCA off East Clay Street.

The fire teams will be led by Alyse Zadalis, 24, of Washington, D.C., and Lindsey Tarr, 23, of Glenwood, Colo.

“It will be an intense challenge and a test of endurance,” said Zadalis, a returning member who has been training at the Vicksburg National Military Park since May.

The team leader said physical training for the fire team is more strenuous than other NCCC teams and requires more discipline, which will help in her career.

Zadalis said she plans to use her experience to become a seasonal firefighter.

She said she became interested in fighting fire when she was 16 and heard her father rave about meeting firefighters at an emergency management conference.

About 22 members will complete a weeklong training program with the Natchez National Park Service, beginning Sept. 13, to become Type 2 wildland firefighters, an entry-level position, Oliver said.

“Members can use this training after they’re done with AmeriCorps. They can apply for federal jobs involving firefighting,” Oliver said.

A fire technician from the park service will train fire team members on hoses, deploying fire shelters — a flame retardant covering used in case they are cut off from managing firefighters and surrounded by flames — and clearing out fire breaks — about 3 feet of land where brush and other fuels are removed to inhibit the progression of a wildfire, Oliver said.

He said NCCC also will be working with federal agencies including U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and deploying all over the 11-state region, which includes Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

“We can be deployed anywhere,” said Oliver.

Last year, Corps members completed 244,316 hours of service for about 6,464,601 recipients. They assisted nearly 96,000 people in disaster areas and refurbished 358 homes for disaster victims, AmeriCorps Public Relations specialist Erika Roberts said.

The second class of 20 NCCC team leaders from 17 states arrived in Vicksburg on July 6, and about 140 members followed last week to begin training before serving communities and responding to disasters, Roberts said.

Along with safety and disaster relief, all members will receive training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid, volunteer management and project development, she said.