School teaches firefighters how to stay safe from fire

SWEET HOME, Ore. - It's a firefighter's job to keep you safe.

It's Shannon Vandeventer's job to keep them safe.

A weekend wildfire in Arizona that killed 19 elite firefighters served as reminder that it's impossible to be over prepared in the potentially deadly occupation. Even the highly trained Granite Mountain Hotshots weren't able to escape when fire raged over them in Yarnell, Ariz.

Vandeventer is a taskforce leader at the forest service's wildland firefighting school, which is designed to give a week of intensive training to crews that range from rookies to veterans.

"It's important to get these guys this experience so when they show up on a fire they know what they're doing," Vandeventer said.

About 200 trainees graduated from the school last Friday. And it really is a school - crews head out to the sites in a caravan of yellow school buses, and even get a headcount as they climb aboard.

Doug Savin is a 43-year-old statistician for the U.S. Forest Service in his regular life.

He said his four years in the Marine Corps left him with a need to feel ready to pitch in during crises.

"In the Marines, everybody has to be able to pick up a rifle and fire at the enemy if necessary," he said. "And I feel kind of the same way about fire. If there's a fire in my home district, I want to be able to help out."

The trainees spend about six hours a day putting out huge piles of burning brush. They clear trails around the fires, dig fire lines, use pumps and set up fire shelters.

Perhaps most critically, they focus on what they call the 10 standard firefighting orders and 18 "watchout situations" - rules Savin says are "written in blood."

Many - if not most - are volunteers with day jobs.

Even with all the training, Savin's wife and children think he's crazy for taking on such a dangerous job.

"And my mom thinks I'm nuts too," he said.