Over 10 different agencies — both local and from out-of-state — are participating in the Southern Area Engine Academy this week, a training event hosted by Volusia County Fire Rescue.
Held at the Florida Sheriff's Youth Camp in Barberville, the weeklong academy began on Saturday, Jan. 20, and runs through Friday, Jan. 26. The class consists of 36 students and aims to teach firefighters about the suppression of wildfires and the management of prescribed fires.
Volusia County Fire Rescue Battalion Commander Scott Smoak, of Ormond Beach, said the academy teaches the firefighters about wildland engines, tactics to fight wildfires and how to protect homes and structures while doing so.
"We are doing this to effectively protect the community and to be able to provide safe measures for the community and how to keep us as firefighters safe," Smoak said.
In addition to learning about operating pumps from water sources during wildfire incidents, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, the students also performed a prescribed burn.
While wildfires can be very destructive, prescribed burns help with habitat restoration for wildlife, Smoak said.
According to a Volusia County press release, the Southern Area Engine Academy is "an embodiment of inter-agency collaboration," and specifically targets supervisors and crew members crucial in tactical decision-making during wildfires and prescribed fires.
"The goal is to equip firefighters with the technical know-how and the strategic thinking necessary for effective initial attack and management of wildland fires," VCFR Chief Joe King said in the press release. "The Southern Area Engine Academy is where theory meets practice, ensuring our firefighters are prepared for any challenge."
Smoak said his favorite part of the academy is the networking that comes with it.
"It is a big community, in reference to firefighters," he said. "There's over 1 million firefighters in the nation. But it's such a tight-knit group that, even though we're here in Florida, there's people in different parts of the nation that we know and communicate pretty much on a daily or sometimes a weekly basis."
Florida Forest Service Bunnell District, Flagler County Fire Rescue, Brevard County Fire Rescue, Orange City Fire Department, St. Johns River Water Management District and other agencies assist with the academy.