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Training Academy #12: Week 9

Oct. 29-Nov. 3, 2023

Author: PCO Josh Jobin, McBain, Michigan

12 officers wearing orange safety vests stand smiling by a lake

Photo caption: Conservation Officer Training Academy #12 spent the week in Roscommon County learning off-road vehicle operation and enforcement. While the PCOs all agreed they had a great time, they also learned a lot, starting with the basics, including ORV mechanics, and eventually advancing to riding tight trails, sharp corners, steep hills and other challenging Michigan terrain. 

Week 9 of Training Academy #12 returned to Roscommon County where we had the opportunity to lodge and continue lessons at the DNR’s Ralph A. MacMullan Center – this time, for search and rescue and off-road vehicle training.

people sit in a classroom listening to a presenter

Photo caption: Probationary conservation officers learn how to search a difficult area by splitting it into different zones.  

We started Sunday afternoon with survival training. Our lead instructors were retired conservation officer Steve Martin and Brett Stoffel, author of “SAR Skills for the Emergency Responder: Basic Skills & Knowledge” and “Managing the Inland Search Function.” Both instructors have a wealth of knowledge and passion for survival skills as well as search and rescue techniques. For example, Stoffel ensured we would be able to start a fire in just about any environment with only a cotton ball, petroleum jelly and a striking steel. 

man kneeling on ground demonstrates how to make a shelter in the woods with a tarp

Photo caption: Brett Stoffel, author of several search and rescue and survival books, demonstrates how to create a shelter using minimal supplies, such as rope and tarp, which are two common items COs carry in search and rescue missions.

After dinner, we met with our school commander, Sgt. Kyle Bucholtz, to take a walk around the RAM Center, which was the original Michigan conservation officer training facility. I was able to see some of the original buildings, along with newly constructed additions. The memorial dedicated to fallen conservation officers is also located at the RAM Center. It is a very important part of history for the DNR and the Michigan Conservation Officers Association.  

smiling man kneels on ground making a fire

Photo caption: A PCO officer uses his X26P TASER to ignite a cotton ball on fire. The PCOs also learned how to create a fire with petroleum jelly and take gasoline from a motorized vehicle, storing it in an aluminum can, to use as a fuel source for fire.  

Monday started in the classroom, with very detailed presentations about survival, search and rescue, and ways to help ourselves and others in case of an emergency. Most of our class did not have the in-depth knowledge about the survival skills presented to us, and we all learned something new. Later, we took to the woods for a hands-on demonstration of fire-making and tying specific rope knots to create survival shelters using natural elements we would find in the woods.

man kneeling on ground in the woods puts a stick in a fire

Photo caption: COs are frequently involved in search and rescue events and need to know how to create a fire with minimal supplies, not only for warmth but also to direct other searchers (who may be on foot or in the air) to their location.

Tuesday, we were tested on the skills we learned from previous days. We started the morning by learning how to search for clues about missing persons. Next, we were split into two-person teams to construct survival shelters and then build two separate fires using a striking steel and cotton/Vaseline combo.

We switched gears Wednesday and Thursday for ORV operation and enforcement. Again, our personal skills varied greatly when it came to ORVs. I was excited to learn how to patrol and operate ORVs as a CO. The training started with the basics so everyone had the same level of understanding. We learned the different parts and mechanics of ORVs, how to mount them, and progressed to different drills, like threshold braking, serpentine maneuvering, cornering and negotiating steep hills.

people ride off-road vehicles on a steep, sandy hill in the woods

Photo caption: PCOs practice riding off-road vehicles on steep hills. COs use ORVs year-round as part of their regular patrols for recreational, fish and game enforcement, and search and rescue efforts. 

After lunch, we fueled up our assigned ORVs and took a long ride on several different types of trails. It was the first time I had the opportunity to ride on a 50-inch-wide trail and I had an absolutely awesome time with the various terrain and difficult tight paths carved through Michigan’s public land. Once the ride was complete, we all laughed at minor hiccups that occurred on the trail and were humbled by the skills we were taught.

Friday concluded the week with a lesson on how to safely load our ORVs onto patrol trucks, and handling operating while intoxicated investigations, patrol tactics and accident investigations. Speaking with other classmates, we all agreed that everyone learned a lot and had a great time.

Read Week 10.