“We are all students of fire and we all learn something when we come out here.” said Firefighter Tucker during a briefing for a wildfire training exercise at the Wayside Honor Rancho on the Pitchess Detention Center property in Castaic.
During May and June, about 150 firefighters gather for each of the 24 scheduled drills. Officers from Los Angeles County Fire Department are joined by firefighters from Burbank, Pasadena, Long Beach, Ventura County, and Orange County for a total of 8 hours of mentoring, drills, and de-briefing. The live fire training exercises focus primarily on improving communication and coordinated tactics while fighting wildfires.
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“This not just a training exercise for Santa Clarita people. When we have big fires, we pull units from all over LA County and those companies need to be in the same thought process as we are…We are looking at new ways of being more efficient and, primarily, safer.” said Assistant Fire Chief, Bill Niccum.
While coolly smoking his cigar, a habit he picked up to keep himself calm during a fire, Niccum carefully listened to the Battallion’s communications and commented on their operations, offering advice to the Battalion Chiefs when necessary.
“Firefighting is inherently high-risk. To meet that, we need people who are capable of stepping into a situation that’s dynamic and mitigating it. First and foremost, we’re using this live fire training to enhance our wildland fire fighting skills for not only our department, but for assisting agencies. Secondly, we’re looking to advance the coordinated fire attack between the crews, the engine companies, the bulldozers, and the aircraft. Third, we aim to reinforce the agency communications.” said Niccum.
“Get the most you can out of today, but on the way home, talk it out.” Niccum encouraged the men to use the time of training to get their “heads in the game” again in preparation for fire season.
“The Santa Clarita Valley is renowned world wide for its high threat of wildland fires. That is one of the reasons we put in the time and the effort to train our people. What we’re fortunate for in the SCV is that we’ve got some of the best firefighting men and women in the world here and that is something that the citizens of Santa Clarita can appreciate: that not only do we have the greatest threat, but we have the best firefighters here to mitigate it.” said Niccum.
The training exercises are only performed with live fire within a “prescriptive window.” If the weather is outside of that deemed safe or advisable, training is limited to exercises without fire.
The training exercises are not just useful for the firefighters. By burning the wildlands behind the detention center in a controlled setting, the threat of a wildfire against it is decreased. In addition to decreasing fuel for a potential wildfire, the shortage of plants behind the facility would aid the Sheriffs in case of an inmate escaping by eliminating possible hiding places.
“People that live within the wildland area, which is virtually all the Santa Clarita Valley, should have a plan. And part of that plan is the Ready! Set! Go! program.“ said Niccum.
To read about the Ready! Set! Go! program, click here.
To read about how you can prepare your home and family in case of a wildfire, click here.