How Heartland firefighters get sent out west for wildfires

Red Card firefighter ready to aid in western wildfires

MT. VERNON, IL (KFVS) - As wildfires continue to rage across the Western United States, some Heartland firefighters watch and wait for their time to be deployed to the flames.

These firefighters have what are called 'red cards' which means they have been trained and tested on ways to fight wildfires in addition to their structural firefighting training says Bryan Jennings, a firefighter with his red card at the Mt. Vernon Fire Department.

"They're just two completely different animals," Jennings said, describing structure and wildfires.

Jennings says getting a red card involves taking classes and training on fighting wildfires and what makes them so much harder to fight.

Such as higher wind conditions, location far away from hydrants, and simply the sheer size of a wildfire. Once you have finished the classes, Jennings says you have to take the test yearly to keep your card.

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Once you're a firefighter with these new skills, Jennings says you go on a roster that could have you deployed to a wildfire at a moments notice.

"Once you have your red card, you're attached to a team, or if you're a medic or something specialized you can also be deployed as a single resource," he said, "You may get pulled almost immediately or you may sit on a list for 6 months. You just never know what's needed at the time."

Additionally, Jennings says when red card firefighters are deployed, they are required to go to their deployment for 14 days minimum. However, they need to make 21 days available. So he says these firefighters often have a hard time getting work off if they have regular jobs back home.

But Jennings says even if he doesn't get sent west to help fight wildfires, his skills as a red card holder can be useful in Mt. Vernon.

"Even if I don't get to go or put myself active, I still brought information back that also supports my community on a smaller scale when we do stuff here," he said.

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