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Fire season sparks united training drills

Every year Camp Pendleton firefighters extinguish nearly 300 wildfires on base – even those at extreme elevations with no road in sight.

This fact, combined with the fast approaching fire season, has inspired Camp Pendleton Fire Department officials to streamline wildfire certifications among all of base’s fire combatants.

More than 130 firefighters from the base’s 11 fire stations completed the department’s first consolidated Multi-company Hoselay and Rule of Engagement Drill, April 14 - 16. The exercise took participants through simulated wildfire scenarios that forced them to negotiate steep and virtually inaccessible terrain.

“We have at least five critical fires a year that threaten structures and run the risk of escaping the base,” said Fire Capt. Patrick D. Williams, base firefighter, Camp Pendleton Fire and Emergency Services. “There are several communities that surround Camp Pendleton, and if a fire escaped the base’s perimeter, it could potentially threaten thousands of homes.”

During the three-day drill, the firefighters broke into 40-man teams and simulated typical wild-land fire scenarios to maintain vital wildfire fighting techniques. Nearly every trainee carried, and progressively ran, a total of 1,800 pounds of hoses through densely brushed hills with elevations exceeding 2,300 feet.

“Every firefighter has to take a basic wild-land fire course and is expected to complete refresher training every year,” said Brian W. Gilmore, base firefighter, CPFES, and former U.S. Forest Service firefighter. “It was quite a task to get the whole department trained up at the same time.”

In the past, each station was responsible for certifying their assigned firefighters. This new training program standardized the annual wildfire qualifications.

“The base has quite a bit of inaccessible terrain, and we deploy water hoses in some way or another almost every time we have a fire,” said Williams, who has more than 32 years of wildfire experience.

In addition to laying hoses, the consolidated training effort also taught aircraft support procedures; fire behavior prediction; and life-saving fire shelter deployment techniques. Emergency fire shelters are deployed to protect firefighters from a blaze that may have overwhelmed their position.

“The potential for a critical fire is year-round,” said Williams. “This training will help to keep everyone on the same page, setting the standard for the future.”

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