A 25-acre parcel of vacant Suffolk County land in Yaphank will become the site of a dedicated training ground to teach volunteer firefighters how to drive brush trucks, and safely and effectively battle wildfires.
County Executive Steve Bellone made the announcement Monday, just days after the third anniversary of the Ridge-Manorville wildfire that burned more than 1,123 acres. The blaze injured three firefighters, drew more than 100 departments and led to thousands of evacuations.
"We continue to be vulnerable to massive wildfires that have the potential to be catastrophic," he said, standing in front of a large brush truck used to penetrate deep into fire zones to extinguish flames. "We've already received alerts from the National Weather Service warning for the potential for brush fires this season."
The threat spans the Island. Monday, more than 200 firefighters from more than 15 fire departments in Nassau County rushed to battle a brush fire that a Nassau fire official said was started accidentally about 3:45 p.m. as landscapers mowed weeds at a Gold Coast property in Manhasset. The fire, which burned about 3 acres of brush, was brought under control about 7 p.m., and all the hot spots were doused at around 9 p.m., said Michael Uttaro, Nassau assistant chief fire marshal.
Suffolk County, its Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission partnered to make the training available.
"Our firefighters will be taught how to use this specialized equipment in order to properly and efficiently contain and extinguish wildfires, saving our land, saving our property and, most importantly, saving lives," Bellone said.
The training parcel, owned by the county, lies just south of the Suffolk County Fire Academy. Firefighters will get classroom training at the academy and hands-on training in driving the trucks. The classes will be given by instructors from the New York Wildfire and Incident Management Academy, an initiative of the Pine Barrens Commission.
Suffolk has 10,000 volunteer firefighters. Each will be eligible for the training, to focus on fire weather, fire behavior and other wildfire-specific topics, commission executive director John Pavacic said.
"This, for the first time, will give us a permanent location," said Peter Scully, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and chairman of the Central Pine Barrens Commission.
While fire departments with brush trucks train how to use them, there has been no formalized wildfire training, said John Jordan Sr., deputy commissioner of Suffolk's Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. "The training will now be more realistic and much better," he said.
Jay Egan, a firefighter for 42 years and a member of the Fire Chiefs' Council of Suffolk County, said the brush truck training will help protect taxpayers and the county.
"The quicker we can get to any fire scene, the deeper we can get into any wooded area and the more efficiently we put that fire out; it's a win-win for everybody involved," he said.
The Ridge-Manorville fire was fueled by high winds and dry conditions. It was the worst fire since the 1995 Sunrise fire that burned more than 5,000 acres in the pine barrens.
With Ellen Yan