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LI firefighters trained in combating brush fires

Lew A. Corbett III, with the Shelter Island

Lew A. Corbett III, with the Shelter Island Fire Department is on board a brush truck as it makes it's way through a forest in Ridge during a training course on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

Shelter Island firefighter Lew Corbett was driving his department's hulking brush truck in the woods when he saw the sign.

"Do you feel lucky?" it said. A black arrow pointed left.

Corbett yanked the steering wheel in that direction, putting himself and the 52-year-old truck through a harsh test.

Driver and truck -- outfitted with a giant roll cage to protect firefighters in case of accidents -- lugged up hills, churned through sand, navigated narrow passageways and executed three-point turns between spindly pines.

Shelter Island was one of 12 Long Island departments participating in the brush truck training exercise hosted by the New York Wildfire and Incident Management Academy on state land in Ridge.

The program took place over two weekends and included classroom and on-the-ground training to help prepare volunteer firefighters for the wildfire season.

"We saw a need for a formalized training for brush trucks on Long Island," said Willie Cirone, an instructor with the New York Wildland Academy who led the training. "The need is not only in driving the trucks, but understanding weather, fire behavior and the different [fire] fuels on Long Island."

In the classroom last weekend, firefighters learned about brush fires and how to keep themselves safe when the wind shifts and a fire quickly changes course.

"Watch the size of the flames," Cirone told the trainees. "Pay attention to your surroundings and what's changing around you."

The course was developed in response to the April 2012 wildfire that scorched 1,124 acres of the pine barrens around Ridge and Manorville.

Since that blaze, there's been a lot of local interest in learning how to fight brush fires, said John Pavacic, executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission.

Officials said the threat of brush fires should be reduced this year due to an unusually wet winter.

Steve Kamalic, of the West Babylon Fire Department's special operations team, said the training was valuable.

"We want to be able to help out any department that's looking for help," he said. "And we want to make sure we're ready and prepared to do it."

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