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Challenge… accepted! Texas legislative staffers join the Texas A&M Forest Service in the field!

Do you know what it takes to fight a wildfire? Have you ever been behind the wheel of an 18-ton, D6 dozer? Have you ever had a highly trained, arson-tracking bloodhound hot on your heels?

Staffers from the Texas State Senate and Texas House of Representatives can now answer those questions with a resounding, yes!

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This past week, the Texas A&M Forest Service, along with its partners in the Army National Guard and a local fire department, hosted a field day that made dreams and nightmares alike come true. From navigating a dozer obstacle course to coming face-to-face with a 125-lb. bloodhound, teams worked together to earn a Texas A&M Forest Service Field Day trophy.

Working in the Texas legislature comes with great responsibility – including learning about many facets of our great state’s innerworkings. In order to help shape policies and give leadership direction, staffers must familiarize themselves with a myriad of topics, such as environmental issues, economics, technology; the list goes on. They must also learn about the teaching, research, service and extension programs throughout the state, like Texas A&M AgriLife.

Usually, those learning opportunities take place in a typical classroom setting, but that’s not how TFS operates. These firefighters are a lean, mean fighting machine when it comes to conservation, protection and leadership – and that happens in the field, not in a PowerPoint.

The competition included four stations:

Dozer Obstacle Course:
TFS uses dozers to create a fireline – using the dozer’s front blade, operators clear fuel (a.k.a. grass, brush, trees, etc.) down to a line of bare mineral soil. In the field, it takes a fleet of dozers and skilled operators to create the fireline, including guys on the ground to help be the eyes and ears for the operators.

For the Field Day competition, staffers were trained how to operate the dozers and each participant took a turn around the obstacle course vying for the fastest time, without knocking over any orange cones.

Fire Engine Relay:
Each TFS Fire Engine carries a crew of firefighters, multiple hoses, connectors, water tanks and much more. Reaching a fire while keeping the engine at a safe distance means the crew must quickly attach hoses in relay to get close enough to the fire to put it out.

Staffers competed in the relay in teams of four, meaning each person had an important task. The first person deployed the first hose, while the rest of the team ran towards the fire. The second person attached a Y-nozzle, to which the third person attached another hose and rolled it toward the fire. The fourth person attached the final nozzle and put out the fire. All of this was timed from the moment of deployment to the moment the water reached the fire. Times ranged from about a minute and a half to three minutes!

Crosscut Saw Competition:
There’s one tool in a firefighter’s toolbox that may look like it’s a blast from the past… but in fact, this crosscut saw is a current and vital tool for TFS. In many remote, mountainous and/or protected lands, the only way to get a crew near the wildfire is to hike. Chainsaws are heavy, so firefighters carry this crosscut saw for the felling or bucking of timber.

In pairs of two, participants competed in a timed event to buck a log – cutting it into smaller logs. While exhausting, teamwork proved to make this process much easier than expected!

Arson Dog Hide-N-Seek:
Participants did not have enough time during the field day to execute this station, but they did get to meet Dozer, a bloodhound and TFS arson dog. Trainers described his incredibly keen sense of smell and ability to track the human scent. Dozer, along with his brother, Tracker, help to track down arsonists and timber thieves and assist local law enforcement agencies with finding escaped inmates or missing people.
Other Demonstrations:
Black Hawk Water Dump Demo
The field day also included a Black Hawk Water Dump Demo. Firefighting doesn’t always just occur on the ground – aerial firefighting is key when it comes to getting water to a blazing fire. Often, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters hauling 500-gallon buckets are used to transport and dump water on the fire. The most popular of the buckets is the flexible Bambi Bucket, which is filled by submerging in lakes, rivers, reservoirs or portable tanks.
Jaws of Life Demo
Created by the 77th Texas Legislature (HB 2604) TFS’s Rural VFD Assistance Program provides $12.8 million per year in grants for rural fire departments. This enables them to get the equipment they need in emergencies to help save lives. This cost-share program supported by the Texas State Legislature, provides funding for firefighting vehicles, fire and rescue equipment, protective clothing, dry-hydrants, computer systems and firefighter training. This includes equipment like the jaws of life.

Overall, the day was a huge success with exciting and informative events, and the winning team took home some excellent trophies!

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