Firefighters face the heat | July 3, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - July 3, 2009

Firefighters face the heat

Training prepares crews for wildland fires

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

San Ramon Valley firefighters experienced hands-on fire training at the two-day Wildland 2009 event last week at Camp Parks in Dublin in anticipation of fire season.

"There were 450 firefighters and we burned 410 acres," said Battalion Chief Dave George of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, who was involved in the training program. "We set 500 fires to burn."

"It's the equivalent of driving 400 miles and stopping every three or four miles to stop and make sure everyone knew how to drive a car," he explained.

The firefighters came from all nine Bay Area counties to work with experienced instructors to learn the latest wildland firefighting tactics. The exercises also provided an opportunity for multiple agencies to work together in a controlled environment, according to Kim French, spokeswoman for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.

"This kind of training helps all the firefighters be faster at putting out fires but also to work lots better cooperatively with each other," agreed George.

"We had rookie firefighters alongside veterans," he continued. "Everybody was instructed to communicate the same way, to fight the fire the same way."

He said they also practiced structure fire protection in hills similar to those in the San Ramon Valley.

"It's a bump-and-run tactic," George explained. "You divert a fire around a house, then move to another location to protect the next house. That's how we protect the houses in the hills. It's very dangerous.

"This training is the most critical because of the threat that is all around us, which firefighters are very aware of. We live in a beautiful area of the country but unfortunately that comes with some very dangerous risks."

He said this type of training is also invaluable for local firefighters because it is what they face every year when they get called to help out in Southern California.

"I personally sleep a lot better at night knowing that when our crews head south that they've had good training and can do the job," George said. "The people down south are fortunate we have so many well trained crews."

Last year the annual training was canceled because crews were helping out down south, he recalled, making it dangerous to have so many local resources tied up with training.

George said it is impossible to predict how bad a fire season will be. The components are hot weather and lots of wind.

"The fire season started the day the rain stopped falling and won't end until we get rain again," he said. "At the end of every season we look back and say, 'Wow, that was a long season.'"

He said everyone can help out by calling as soon as they think they see or smell smoke.

"People sometimes think somebody else called it in," he said. "They think it's no big deal. An odd thing about the grass fire season is that sometimes the most devastating of fires are reported initially by only one or two phone calls. And sometimes the smallest of fires will get an overwhelming, massive number of calls."