Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who leads the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its wildland firefighting force, met with Washington National Guard’s Gen. Dan Dent to commemorate the long, fruitful partnership between the agency and the Guard during her Saturday morning visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) for a DNR-led wildfire training exercise designed to prepare Guard troops to assist DNR and other agencies in the event of a large-scale wildfire.
“Our partnership with the National Guard has been key,” Commissioner Franz said. “Every single year we are challenged as we see increasing severe fires, longer seasons, and we still have limited amounts of firefighting resources in the state of Washington. But for our partnership with the National Guard and with our federal and local firefighters, we would not be able to do the work we do.”
Saturday’s field exercise at JBLM’s Training Area 13 marked the successful culmination of DNR’s first major virtual fire academy – a shift away from the more traditional classroom setting from academies of years past, necessitated by the agency’s COVID-19 exposure mitigation strategy.
“Our No. 1 priority is always to make sure our firefighters and our communities are safe,” Franz said. “This is a historic moment – we’ve never had to deal with the issue of trying to keep them safe from all the challenges that wildfire presents coupled with a deadly pandemic, and it has not been an easy task figuring out how we do that.”
Roughly 80 trainees rotated through four stations, including water handling from portable storage tanks and fire line construction. Between the exercise at JBLM and another training opportunity in Spokane this coming weekend, the Guard will have 250 troops trained by DNR and certified for fire season.
“The soldiers and airmen of the Washington National Guard are proud to do our part to support the Department of Natural Resources and the communities across the state as we prepare and train for fire season,” Gen. Dent said. “This is what the Guard does, and we’re proud to do it.”
Visual assets: For-use press conference video and images from the field day exercise are available here.