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Thursday, April 18, 2024


Feb. 19, 2002 — A federal training grant is making it easier for V.I. firefighters to "go bush."
Utilizing the $138,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, fire officials arranged for specialized training in fighting forest fires that can also be applied to the much more common problem locally of burning brush.
Benjamin Santana, a former St. Croix fire chief now working with Global Business Solutions in Georgia, was contracted to visit crews at the various V.I. fire stations to conduct three-hour "Introduction to Wildland Fire Suppression" workshops.
"Being that we're firefighters, we have to learn wildland firefighting from a federal government standpoint," Fire Service Deputy Chief Boyd Brown said.
Trainees became better acquainted with weather assessment, burning characteristics of different kinds of brush, use of specialized equipment and different methods of controling the spread of fire. In their standard training, V.I. firefighters mainly learn to fight structural fires, spokesman Donald Charles said, so the specialized training offers them approaches they may not have known before.
Brown said one of the things trainees learned is that some local types of brush have a high oil content, making it harder to put out a blaze if they catch fire. Another is that when some trees, such as the caustic mangineel, burn, the smoke contains harmful fumes, and this may require special precautions.
Although the V.I. National Park is the fifth-largest in the national park system, Charles said, forest fires have never been a big problem locally. The most memorable in recent years occurred in 1997, when sparks from the annual V.I. Carnival fireworks display in Charlotte Amalie harbor started a blaze on the dry brush on Hassel Island.
But he said local brush fires outscale that very public incident by far, consuming hundreds of acres every year. "There have been a lot of brush fires, especially on St. Croix," he said.
But Brown, who oversees training for the fire service, said the introductory workshops, which were completed last month, will not be enough to improve emergency response to brush fires. For that, he said, the Fire Service needs equipment.
Officials are applying for another grant to help provide some of the equipment recommended by the federal government for fighting forest fires, Brown said. Meantime, a portion of the current grant has been set aside to install dry fire hydrants in rural areas. Charles said dry hydrants can help improve emergency water supply, functioning like a pumper when firefighters need to draw water from a pond or other body of water.

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