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Wildland drill preps for fire season

Fire agencies from three counties coming together to hone skills
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local Firefighters are getting ready for this summer’s fire season. Fire service agencies from Placer, Nevada and Yuba counties will be participating in Wildland 2010, a safety and training exercise from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday in Auburn. The Western Placer County Fire Chiefs Association sponsors the semi-annual event, which started in Auburn in 2003 and is held in different locations throughout the counties. Dennis Mathisen, division chief for the Roseville Fire Department, said the drill is necessary as California heads into peak fire-risk months. “I think it’s important for all of us to be extremely prepared for the wildfire situation as we enter into the fire season,” Mathisen said. “Another important thing in this particular situation is it’s a regional training effort. It gives us an opportunity to get these agencies together.” The drill gives firefighters a chance to work with those outside their immediate departments, which is important because a number of fire agencies work together when emergency situations occur, Mathisen said. “I think (a widespread fire) is a risk in our community … but it’s a risk we’re aware of and that is why we train to it,” he said. “A good example is the 49 Fire of last year. The more we train together, the smoother the operation goes when we are right in the middle of an emergency.” Fire officials are participating in four stations, or divisions, during the drill. Division A deals with wildland firefighter safety and tactics. Here firefighters get a refresher on safety tips that should come into their minds automatically while fighting a fire, Mathisen said. Division B gives firefighters a chance to practice getting fire hoses on the ground as quickly as possible and getting water supply delivered to the fire. Division C offers firefighters practice in working safely around, but not operating, Cal Fire bulldozers and helicopters, equipment they will most likely encounter during a real fire. Division D entails practice in the area of wildland urban interface. Here firefighters will practice providing structural protection, preparing buildings for a fire to burn through the area. The new Placer County Incident Management Team is overseeing the event. An incident management team is made up of representatives from several fire agencies. These teams exist throughout California and, when requested by local jurisdictions, come together to assist in the control of fire-fighting operations. The Placer County team will practice its various roles for the first time during the drill. Mathisen, who is public information officer for the team, said he is excited that the members have a chance to practice their roles as if in a real-life fire situation. “They will be exercising their functions,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to stretch our wings a bit. It gives us a chance to work with each other and build on each other’s strengths as a team.” The incident management team also includes representatives from a private ambulance company and the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Mathisen said. Chief Mark D’Ambrogi of the Auburn Fire Department said it’s important for the drill to take place in different locations each year. “I’m excited to have it any place any year,” D’Ambrogi said. “The whole point of rotating around is to become familiar with other communities. Auburn did just recently suffer a catastrophic event. It can happen anywhere at any time.” The drill is scheduled to take place at Mountain Peoples Warehouse on Earhart Avenue. Chief Dave Wheeler of Loomis Fire Department, who is the commander of the incident management team, said the team is a much-needed part of Placer County’s firefighting services. “This is a great opportunity for us,” Wheeler said. “For years there has been a need for a local incident team county-wide. There is no one jurisdiction in the county that can handle a large incident in their jurisdiction by themselves. (In the incident management team) you see people, you talk to them, you become familiar with their capabilities, trust their judgment. We are set, ready to go and we hope for the best.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com