W.Va. Guard's 249th Army Band trains on wildland fire suppression

By Edwin L. Wriston | West Virginia National Guard | Oct. 7, 2019

Morgantown, W.Va. —

More than 20 members of the West Virginia Army National Guard’s (WVARNG) 249th Army Band completed basic wildland fire suppression training led by the West Virginia Division of Forestry at the Morgantown Readiness Center, Oct. 4, 2019.


The three-day training is a joint effort between the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) and the West Virginia Division of Forestry to supplement manpower needs in the event of a large-scale wildland or forest fire in West Virginia.

The training comes at a critical moment when West Virginia is under a declared State of Emergency due to moderate drought conditions. Since June of this year, West Virginia has received 2 to 5 inches less rainfall than normal, with some areas of the state receiving 5 to 7-inch deficits. As a result, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued a burn ban that severely limits outdoor burning statewide and has also declared a State of Emergency for all 55 counties in West Virginia due to the prolonged rain shortage. Conditions in the state’s woodlands remain potentially dangerous.


“This training is important to West Virginia right now due to the abnormally dry period and drought conditions we are experiencing throughout the state,” stated M. Rodger Ozburn, Assistant Regional Forester with the West Virginia Division of Forestry. “In the event of a major fire, having the trained auxiliary manpower provided by the WVNG gives us at Forestry the ability to supplement our own resources and better respond to large-scale events when and if they happen.”


The training class covered basic wildland fire fighting techniques including understanding fire behavior, suppression tactics and techniques, crew organization, communications, and crew safety and awareness. The goal was to provide WNVG personnel the basic skills and experience to operate on a fire line side-by-side with experienced Division of Forestry personnel.

“This training gives our personnel and Forestry personnel the opportunity to work together to establish relationships and trust, elements that are critical in any combat situation, whether in a war zone or in a forest fire,” stated Warrant Officer 1 Jeremiah Bennett, commanding officer of the 249th Army Band. “In the event of activation, both our WVNG Soldiers and Forestry personnel can be confident in our level of training which results in a safer operational environment for all involved.”

“The Division of Forestry has a set number of personnel. Our Soldiers work as force multipliers should the fire season become bad and Forestry numbers gets stretched to unsafe levels. We are able to provide trained backup to step in and assist them. This is a perfect example of how the WVNG integrates with our partner agencies at the state level to serve the citizens of the state,” added Bennett.


According to Ozburn, the WVNG has been activated numerous times during his career to assist Forestry. “They are always ready, always willing to step in and help us do whatever it takes to complete the mission. We are proud and happy to have them on our team,” he stated.