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Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2012, 7:15 AM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 11:05 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - By the end of July, all 1,100 Austin firefighters will have gone through new and improved wildfire training.
"It's been hard to justify it year after year," said Austin Fire Lt. Josh Portie.
The department now said it's critical coming off the worst wildfire season in Central Texas history.
It starts with 40 hours of classroom training. Then, firefighters attend a field day at the training center in Southeast Austin.
It's a unique chance to get up close and personal with special wildfire-fighting equipment some have never used.
"Theoretically, we could send any of our firefighters out and do the exact same thing because they've all achieved the same, exact training," said Portie.
Firefighters pulled out a special, lighter and longer wildfire hose compared to the one used for fighting house fires, which they can pack into a backpack.
At another station, firefighters were cutting a pretend fire line with hand tools.
Another group was gathered around a brush truck from the Texas Forest Service getting comfortable with the unique equipment stored inside.
They also learned survival skills for the worst-case scenario: when they cannot outrun fast-moving flames.
They wrapped themselves in fire shelters that looked like thin sleeping bags and laid underneath. The shelters block radiant heat and can cut down on injuries from the flames.
"Being more prepared, feeling more confident is the main thing," said Austin firefighter Aidan Bradley.
He helped fight the Bastrop County wildfires.
"Some of the set-ups are very similar to what we were experiencing out there, but it's really hammering through the need for safety -- for distances between people while carrying tools and also for carrying fire shelters."
Austin is one of the few departments doing anything this hands-on. They said other departments are sure to follow.
Most of the training is covered by grants from the Texas Forest Service. Lake Travis Fire Rescue and the Round Rock Fire Department was also assisting with the training.
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