By Megan Mann/SCVNEWS.com
Los Angeles County Firefighters battled flames on a hillside in Castaic Thursday morning during a live fire training exercise.
As the fire season approaches, the annual training event allowed first responders the opportunity to enhance their wild land firefighting skills and reinforce agency communication skills within a controlled environment inside the Wayside Honor Ranch at Pitchess Detention Center.
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The main objective of the day is to train firefighters who have worked less than two years in their current rank. Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum said the drills help enforce what each member's roles and responsibilities are during a real life wildfire incident.
“Communication, coordination and collaboration are essential components of mitigating these large scale incidents,” said Niccum.
The group assembled around 9 a.m. Thursday for a safety briefing inside the visitors parking lot at Pitchess Detention Center, which served as a simulated staging area for the exercise.
“This is a learning environment but at the same token we do have live fire on the ground,” L.A. County Fire Chief Inman said to the group. “We've got hot weather and fire on the ground that means that we need to have a sense of urgency. We have control over the fire but we don't have total control over the fire. That's where you folks come in.”
Two incident areas were designated as Branch I (Hog Farm) and Branch II (SEB). Teams were divided equally and deployed further east into the Honor Ranch property, operated by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
As the convoy of red engines made its way through the canyons on dirt roads, crews began creating fire breaks by burning the dry vegetation at the top of the hillside.
Crews reassembled and conducted 4-6 “evolutions” throughout the day at each branch. During the first evolution at Branch II crews used a fire drip to ignite dry brush at the base of a hillside, which spread quickly along the face of the hill. Female inmates dressed in orange suites and helmets and armed with shovels and rakes marched up the embankment and created a firebreak as they cleared dry brush. Los Angeles Coutnty Firefighters followed the crew, dousing the flames with their hose.
Simulated crew member injuries were also employed throughout the day to help train firefighters to handle additional situations that may arise during a real wildfire incident.
The exercise relies on the expertise of seasoned firefighters, who play a mentor role to the team members who are less experienced.
“There's a wide variety of experience here, these guys have been out in the brush for a long time,” Chief Inman told the crew Thursday morning. “Utilize those folks and ask them questions to increase the tools in your toolbox.”
The multi-agency exercise included an engine crew from Manhattan Beach along with 9 other L.A.County Fire engines, 2 patrols, 2 water tankers, 8 camp crews including inmates from the California Department of Correction.
Niccum said he expects this summer to be an active fire season.
“In the last two years we've had below average fire activity. This year is considered to be normal, and normal in the Santa Clarita Valley is busy,” he said.
Assistant Chief Bill Niccum