As the 2005 fire season spreads rapidly west into California, after a very active startup in the western deserts of Arizona, California and Utah, fire departments are refreshing firefighter training and safety awareness. In Santa Clara County, CA, more than 15 fire departments sent equipment and personnel to a two-day wildland training exercise in the foothills of San Jose. The live-fire training was conducted at Joseph D. Grant Ranch County Park, where nearly 200 acres of brush designated for repeated training fires was intentionally ignited for firefighters to observe, deploy and extinguish.
The fireground is divided into branches, divisions and sections with firefighting command and control to provide realistic training exposure to the fire control once the brush was ignited. Holding teams were staged and ready to respond to any escape outside of the control lines although crews assigned in the different divisions successfully contained all of the training burns.
More than 300 firefighters from across Santa Clara County participated in the two-day exercise, rotating through the three identified divisions. Division A resources were assigned to structure protection and practiced spotting, structure triage, and property preparation. Division B was the hand tool evolution where firefighters practiced cutting fire line with shovels and McLeod tools (combination rake and hoe tools), and then put their practice to work using the direct attack method of fire attack after grass was ignited and spread across open fields. Division C was the bump-and-run drill and progressive hoselay evolution where most of the acreage was burned. Grass and brush was ignited from a natural barrier and spread rapidly upslope. Firefighters assigned to strike teams held their anchor points and ran hundreds of feet of progressive hose lines up the flanks to cut off the head of the fire.
Firefighter safety was the number-one priority in the exercise. Before each evolution or ignition, strike teams, task forces and single increments were given safety briefings, took weather readings, reviewed the incident command structure and identified the communications plan.
This and other similar exercises are regarded as extremely important this year in California and other western states due to the extreme mix of weather conditions that have been presented since the winter rains began. The higher rainfall levels across the state this year has resulted in a longer growth period and greater fueled density. A very active grass fire season has already begun with great concern for the late-summer fire season just a short time away.
Keith D. Cullom, a Firehouse correspondent, is a captain and public information officer for the Santa Barbara County, CA, Fire Department, where he has served since 1972. He also is a freelance writer and photographer, covering firefighting topics. Cullom is a member of the International Fire Photographers Association (IFPA).