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June 29, 2012 > Rookie Fire Journal

Rookie Fire Journal

In addition to responding to structure fires, emergency medical calls, technical rescues, hazardous materials incidents and an assortment of other emergencies, the Fremont Fire Department also mitigates wildland fires. Wildland fires are fires that involve vegetation and typically become threatening when fuels such as grass, brush, and trees are dry and adjacent to communities. This area called the "interface zone" is typical in many of the communities on the east side of Fremont.

Therefore the Fremont Fire Department has personnel and equipment with the capability to fight wildland fires. A type 3 fire engine which has off-roading capability, lightweight hose, wildland tools, and the capacity to carry four firefighters and about 500 gallons of water has become the standard wildland fire fighting apparatus in California. In Fremont there are five type 3 engines strategically placed at different stations throughout the city in order to provide the most effective response. One of these type 3 fire engines is placed at station 5 in Warm Springs and happens to be where I'm stationed for the third portion of my probationary period

While at station 5 I've had a great experience responding to a wide variety of emergencies with another very experienced crew and I've learned a lot in the process. Most recently, my training has been focused on how both the Fremont Fire Department and the state of California fight wildland fires. In Fremont, the response to a vegetation fire depends on the weather and the area of the city as certain areas have a more hazardous interface zones and therefore require more resources. On "Red Flag Days" when the weather is hot, dry and windy, five fire engines and two Battalion Chiefs are dispatched to potential fires. Once the Battalion Chief has an idea of how large or threatening the fire is, more resources are ordered if necessary.

In addition to local municipal resources, Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, provides resources located in crucial areas throughout the state. Cal Fire is one of the largest departments in the country with nearly 8,000 paid firefighters and is responsible for coordinating efforts to mitigate most large scale vegetation fires in California. Because of the teamwork between local municipalities and Cal Fire, large scale destructive vegetation fires in California are held in check and residents of California are able to live in interface zones which have traditionally been considered too risky to inhabit.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to take part in the annual Camp Parks wildland burn drill. This training was a great opportunity to get hands-on practice at some of the tactics Fremont Fire and other local municipalities use to combat vegetation fires. In addition to reviewing progressive hose lays which use large amounts of hose to extinguish fires with water, we trained on backfiring operations. Backfiring is a commonly used technique in which crews purposely start controlled fires to burn vegetation fuels ahead of the main body of fire so that the fire essentially burns itself out due to lack of fuel. This tactic is extremely useful when water supplies are limited and is pretty amazing when used correctly.

Because Camp Parks is situated on thousands of acres of dry fuel, it is necessary to keep these fuels under control during summer months. The drill serves not only as excellent training for local fire departments, but also is an efficient way to control fire danger at the base. Hopefully we will have another quiet wildland season in California. However, if fires do start, I have no doubt that the state as a whole is prepared to keep destruction to a minimum.

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