'Lessons learned' since Signal Mountain wildfires - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'Lessons learned' since Signal Mountain wildfires

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File photo of Signal Mountain wildfires in October 2016. File photo of Signal Mountain wildfires in October 2016.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TN (WRCB) -

Local fire departments are making changes to their training to be better prepared for wildfires.

One state agency said it is now even short staffed because workers quit after of the fires.

Firefighters across the country were needed to help put out the flames surrounding Chattanooga this fall.

For local departments, it was unexpectedly hard work.

For some, it made them want to get a new job.    

"Some people it just got to be too much, being away from your family, and they were just like you know this is not worth it so they found other positions and decided other careers they wanted to try," said Shannon Gann, Tennessee Forestry Division.

According to Gann around 25 percent of local forestry technicians and bulldozer operators have left the business since the wildfires.

The Department of Agriculture Public Affair's representative said in an email, "From Oct. 1, 2016 until Feb. 22, 2017, twenty-two Forestry employees departed TDA. Eight of the twenty-two worked in the Cumberland District. Two of those Cumberland District positions are bulldozer operators." The Public Affairs office said the 25 percent number is inaccurate, "There are 151 full and part-time employees in the Cumberland District, which covers 27 counties and includes Hamilton County."

Even with a short staff, Gann said the division is hoping prescribed burns this Spring will reduce the chance of any upcoming flames.

"Still be careful, it doesn't take much to be right back where we were," Gann said.

Gann said they can pull resources from other counties if they need help. Each year the division coordinates prescribed burns for private landowners. The burns could help stop a wildfire from spreading.

Local fire departments are now training specifically for wildfires, something they had very little experience with before this fall. 

"We're used to structures, we can do structures, we can do brush fires, but a true wild land fire is a little different animal," said Signal Mountain Fire Chief Eric Mitchell.

"They were all so labor-intensive, when I say it's exhausting, they were doing it every day for weeks," Mitchell said. 

Many fire departments on Signal Mountain said the fires wiped out their crews but firefighters stayed on the job, they're now just taking home some lessons learned.

READ MORE | UPDATE: Wildfire forces some Signal Mountain residents to evacuate

"We're just trying to look at ways to do things a little bit more efficiently and better and safer," Chief Mitchell said.

Chief Mitchell said his firefighters are training to create better fire breaks, learning what equipment is needed for wildfires, and training to use it.

The Tri-State Mutual Aid Association is also organizing a specific "Wild Land Firefighter Unit" to be utilized this spring.

"It'll just take a few firefighters from each department to make this team, this strike team, and then that way we won't strap every fire department for all their resources," Chief Mitchell said. 

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