First Ever Tribal Firefighter Training Conducted by North Dakota Firefighter’s Association in White Shield
Story and photos by Anne Morsette: KMHA Station MGR
It has been over 20 years since the East Segment community of White Shield has had any sort of fire fighters. 2000 was the end of the White Shield Wild Fire volunteer era. Since then, the community has had to rely upon neighboring towns such as Garrison and Parshall for emergency fire and rescue response. In instances of a home or rural fire, wait times can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes; leaving family and on-lookers left to watch helplessly as homes and structures burn to a total loss.
Fourteen White Shield community members stepped up to participate in a long-awaited firefighter training course. At the direction of Councilman Fred Fox, Anthony Gonzalez of the Bismarck Fire Department consulted with the North Dakota Firefighter’s Association to strategize an introductory training course for up to 25 participants to become educated and trained in the field of firefighting. The entire planning process took over a year, however the three-week course finally took place this May in White Shield. Five instructors from around the state collaborated together to instruct the course. Anthony Gonzalez and Brennen Dockter of Bismarck Fire Department along with Mason Geiger of Dickinson Fire Department, Jared Hopkins of Mandan Fire Department, and Rob Knuth of Minot Fire Department provided the trainees with all the necessary knowledge and materials needed to become a firefighter. This is the first time in ND history that the NDFA has done such a training with a tribal entity. Minot Fire Department instructor Knuth and Councilman Fox plan to continue doing regular trainings with the NDFA, and hope to expand throughout MHA.
Training participants included Mercury White, Steve Garcia, Cody Whitebear, Cederick Wilkinson, Chasmin Yellowbird, Chris Everett, Joe Azure, Jay Rogers, Sheridan Strangerhorse, Elijah Carter, Susan Conners, Marie Howlingwolf, Dorvan Mulluck, Chad Andrade, and Alice McKinney. Firefighting interested a wide variety of men and women from the young ages of 22 all the way up to 64 years of age. For Maria Howlingwolf (22), she has chosen to follow in the footsteps of her father Dwight Howlingwolf, who was a wildland firefighter. Elijah Carter encourages young people, “don’t be scared; try new things.” Many of the participants hold a full-
A controlled fire was set to wooden pallets and hay bails to provide trainees with first-hand experience in observing fire behavior, and practice ventilation and fire suppression tactics.
(Photo submitted by Anthony Gonzalez)
Trainees will undergo more courses to get certified in order to be part of the first ever White Shield Fire Department.
Trainees went in the structure in groups of three and supervised by NDFA instructors.
Bismarck firefighter and instructor Anthony Gonzalez explained the training exercise to a group of White Shield high school students, who had the privilege of viewing part of the exercise as an incentive for finishing their state testing early. Family and friends also gathered nearby to watch the training exercise.
time job, but simply want to give back and be of service to their community by being a volunteer firefighter. Cody Whitebear also encourages everyone to “find your drive; try everything once.” Participants Mercury White, Alice McKinney, and Susan Conners are all White Shield Ambulance volunteers and have taken the initiative to use this training as another means of helping the community by keeping the people safe.
On May 13, participants got the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills to the test during a controlled fire inside a fire training burn building. The NDFA instructors arrived in White Shield early Thursday morning to set up the structure behind the old school. Participants were inside the old school gym getting ready with their new assigned gear and conducting necessary health checks prior to the training. Bismarck Firefighter Anthony Gonzalez expressed to the trainees how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to be a firefighter; by exercising, eating well, and getting regular wellness checks. With the supervision of the NDFA instructors, trainees practiced fire ventilation, fire suppression tactics, and observed fire behavior. The experience was said to be fun, challenging, and an adrenaline rush. Participants gained knowledge and experience to further themselves on their firefighting journey. Gonzalez said, “the training went well. They learned a lot and got to experience a real fire. We are going to keep rolling to get them certified on Firefighter 1.”
New developments in White Shield have been underway for quite some time now. One of the many development projects is a Public Safety Center for the town of White Shield. The new building will include the fire department, ambulance, and law enforcement. White Shield is currently in the process of bidding on fire trucks to order for the community. Councilman Fred Fox said, “I envision White Shield being of big assistance to not only the community but also the county.” The first ever NDFA-TAT specialized three-week training course has come to an end; however, there are plans to recruit and continue the training regularly. Training is done routinely to continue and improve firefighter development.