Waldo Canyon Fire Leads to Changes for Training and Equipment

The Waldo Canyon (CO) fire inspired some changes in firefighter training and equipment for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, such as new wildland firefighting clothing and some mechanical devices for trucks.

This spring, three department lieutenants designed and taught a class reviewing lessons learned from the fire, and every department firefighter or officer attended. The class included a Waldo Canyon staff ride — a practice adopted from the military — that took firefighters into Mountain Shadows to relive the decisions made the night of the firestorm.

The class later opened to fire departments from across the state, Deputy Chief Steve Dubay said.

Otherwise, no changes have been made to the Fire Department’s requirements for wildland firefighting training, a system of certifications that is entirely different from those required to battle structure fires.

In 1989, the Fire Department nominally created its Wildfire Suppression Program; in 1998, it required some firefighters to have wildland training. Firefighters at stations 4 and 9, headquarters for the department’s Wildfire Suppression Program, as well as those at stations 12, 13, 16 and 18 are required to have higher level wildfire certifications.

All firefighters also are required to have basic training in the Incident Command System, a national standard for managing disasters or other large-scale events.

These requirements were in place long before the Waldo Canyon fire, Dubay said.

The department has beefed up its internal communication system by using its broadcast studio – which broadcasts live to the 20 fire stations around the city — that can be used to pass on updates during an event, Fire Chief Ted Collas said.

“In the midst of the chaos, we didn’t do that,” Collas said of the Waldo Canyon fire. “It is a more efficient way of communicating internally.”

The department has also drastically changed its emergency call-back system — an untested staffing plan for emergencies that left the department spread too thin and working overly long shifts during the fire.

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