Critical Training as Fire Season Kicks Up

May 7, 2009 7:19:43 PM PDT
Firefighters from all over the Central Valley could be plucked out of their stations and sent to the fire lines, but dozens of fortifications are training to join them as soon as Friday.Five fire engines and 22 firefighters took off from Fresno Thursday afternoon on a mission to save Santa Barbara homes.

Many of them are in special "Type 3" trucks that are designed to tackle fires in hilly areas. "In the mountainous areas where they're going where there's no clearance, those smaller vehicles will give them more mobility to help them protect those homes," said CAL-FIRE public information officer Chris Christopherson.

More than 50 firefighters and 150 inmate firefighters have left the Valley to help in southern California and while there's still enough manpower to protect the Valley, they're going to need some backup as fire season kicks up.

That's what makes a training session in Del Rey so critical. 37 seasonal CAL-FIRE firefighters are taking orders, pulling hose and fighting fires for the first time in a few months.

The most intense part of the training is the flashover chamber. The fire in the chamber gets up over 1400 degrees. Firefighters battle it with straight streams of water as they learn to fight structure fires.

The chamber gives firefighters firsthand experience with the strange behavior of fire as they prepare for the possibility of heading to Santa Barbara, where several firefighters have been hurt.

"Fire's only predictable to a certain point and then it has a mind of its own," said CAL-FIRE seasonal firefighter Cullen Rodgers. "It can blow up whenever it feels like it. You add in the weather and the winds they have down there and you can get bad things happening."

But these firefighters are itching to get out in the field. They can be sent anywhere as soon as training ends Friday and some of them want to catch the next truck headed for southern California. "They did that last year with the Basin fire," said seasonal CAL-FIRE firefighter Jake Henry. "As soon as we were done with the structure day, which is the last day of training, they asked for volunteers."

And the trainees aren't the last wave of seasonal firefighters joining the ranks by any means. 70 more will go through the same training next week. They could end up manning a station like this one, or heading to the fire lines, wherever they are next week.

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