2012-07-13 / Front Page
Practice makes perfect
Live fire drill helps VCFD prepare for wildfire season
Next to an already scorched hill in Moorpark’s Happy Camp Canyon, about 50 firefighters moved into position Tuesday morning with their hoses and helmets, getting ready to fight the next controlled blaze.
It was day two of a “live fire” training session organized by the Ventura County Fire Department’s wild-land division.
Firefighters from the cities of Oxnard and Los Angeles, as well as the federal fire department from the Point Mugu Naval Base, joined the local agency in hopes of preparing for the upcoming fire season.
“What we’re trying to accomplish right here is practicing some teamwork and interagency cooperation,” said Steve Swindle, spokesperson for VCFD. “During the brush fire season, we often butt up against Los Angeles County, Kern County, Santa Barbara County—and we find ourselves working with different agencies.
“So we’re out here practicing our communications and practicing our tactics together.”
While the fire season in Southern California never really ends, wildfire conditions in areas like Ventura County can become most hazardous in the hot, dry and windy months of the summer and early fall.
To prepare for the threat of this year’s wildfire season, VCFD received permission from a Moorpark rancher to burn about 30 acres of privately owned wild land over a twoweek period for practice.
“When we’re done we’ll actually have created a pretty defensible space around his home,” Swindle said. “ The homes out here have already done really excellent weed abatement, but we’re just adding a perimeter for them. So the training is beneficial for us and them.”
The live fire training session, which is in Happy Camp Canyon near the Rustic Canyons Golf Course off Princeton Avenue, began July 9 and is set to continue through July 24.
Each day of training lasts from 9:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m., and different crews from the various agencies participate.
Chad Cook, battalion chief of VCFD’s wild-land division, said practicing with controlled burns allows the agencies to get “firsthand knowledge of each other’s capabilities.”
“Our fire department every year is faced with dealing with wildfire,” Cook said. “The better prepared we are for it, and the better we have interagency coordination, the smoother our incidents run.”
Because different departments use different types of equipment, problems may arise during a real fire incident, especially in regard to radio communications, the chief said.
“We might use one type of radio frequency, while L.A. City might use a different one,” Cook said. “So communications issues might come into play when we have a fire bordering the county of Los Angeles and Ventura. By us coming together, we work a lot of these issues out before we actually attack a fire.”
The real thing
On Tuesday morning, in 90-degree heat, the practicing firefighters created bulldozer lines—or fire breaks—around a 1-acre portion of a tall hill in Happy Camp Canyon and lit the dry grasses.
The firefighters then attacked the blaze directly with their hoses, while those in the hand crew came up with their axes and other tools to break down the terrain and make sure the fire didn’t come up behind them.
“Before the fire season starts every year, we train very diligently,” Swindle said. “It’s not always that we get to lay live fire on the ground. This is the most beneficial training we can have because it’s real.
“You’re hiking in the hills, you’re busting through the grass and the terrain, it’s hot outside and you’re on the fire line with the heat and spraying water.”
In simulated training sessions, where there is no live fire, VCFD uses orange cones to denote a fire, Swindle said.
“We use all the same tactics, but instead of fire, we’re hitting the cones,” he said. “You don’t get the heat, the smoke or the realism of the flames. But in live fire training like this, you’ve got to chase the fire, and fire runs.”
Despite setting real fires in the canyon, Swindle said, the department keeps the blaze under control at all times during the training session.
“We don’t let the fire get too big in the training realm, so we don’t start something we didn’t mean to,” he said. “We put control lines around everything.”
On day two of the session Cook said the fire companies were doing very well in the training.
“These small scenarios test our basic firemanship skills,” Cook said. “And those basic skills are application of water to the fire, hose evolutions, driving, and how quickly we can get our job done.”