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Packing on pounds for fire test

Wildland fires in the west often make national news, and sometake grueling weeks-long firefights to quell.

Under the right circumstances, the men and women fighting thosefires could actually be from Lincoln and the surrounding counties.Thursday morning, more than a dozen area foresters gathered at theHansel King Sportsplex to test their physical capability to be sentto the big fires if the call comes.

“The state requires most of them to have at least the moderatefitness requirement,” said Southern Region Training Coordinator EdBrown. “But to be able to go on a federal detail, you have to havewhat’s called the ‘arduous fitness requirement.'”

The arduous requirement, Brown said, involves having to strap ona 45-pound vest and walk three miles, or six laps at the KingComplex, in 45 minutes.

“It’s harder than it sounds,” Brown said with a laugh. “Thatlast mile gets tough.”

The reason for the “pack test,” as it’s called, is that during awildland fire, there is really very little letdown time.

“They’re long shifts,” Brown said. “It’s 12 hours or more in aday, and you only get six hours of sleep. Sometimes four. And theseare 14-day federal details.”

Mississippi is involved in two compacts that go and help otherstates, sending engines and manpower to help out wherever needed.The last group that was sent went to Texas and Oklahoma a few yearsago, he said.

“They sometimes have to construct fire lines by hand wherethere’s mountainous terrain and you can’t get the equipment upthere,” Brown said.

Taking a working capacity test like the pack test covers severalbases for the foresters, officials said.

The tough training for the test itself better protects thefirefighter’s personal safety and health, as well as the helpinginsure he or she won’t be a liability to the safety of co-workers.It also makes more effective firefighters on a fire scene.

The pack test is intentionally stressful and is a good indicatorof aerobic capacity, and muscular strength and endurance, officialssaid. Training for the test usually begins about four to six weeksbefore the arduous test is administered.

Thursday’s test included foresters from Lincoln, Lawrence,Copiah, Amite, Franklin, Wilkinson and Pearl River counties.