Preparing for the rigors of wildfire season requires year-round training
CHICO, Calif. - Wildfire season presents some of the most dangerous firefighting conditions, so Chico Fire crews are required to keep up with their training all year.
Two of the most important drills firefighters must stay up to date with is their rapid attack progressive hose lay and shelter deployment.
The rapid attack progressive hose lay is used when the fire is far away, off road from where the engine will be parked. "What they're doing there is they're trying to race the progression of the fire to try to get it surrounded," explained Chico Fire Division Chief John Kelso. "This one is one of the toughest ones, typically we do it for time."
Each hose is a 100-foot section that weighs 50 pounds. If they have to, crews will extend the hose up to five miles from the truck.
Then it's time to start extinguishing the flames and there's a technique for that too. Firefighters keep the flames right in front of them with one foot in the burned area and the other in the greenery. That is called the burning edge of the fire.
Fighting the flames can be both unpredictable and dangerous, which leads to the next drill that keeps them prepared for a worst-case scenario.
"Deploy their fire shelters. That is something that as a firefighter you never want to have to do it is a last resort," explained Captain Chuck Fry.
To be used in a life or death situation, crews are trained to climb into aluminum bags and drop to the floor in 30 seconds when the flames get too hot and out of control. "As hot as it is inside that [bag], it's a lot hotter and [not] survivable outside of the fire shelter and so once you've deployed it, you stay in that until the fire passes by you," said Captain Fry.
Even then, the shelter is not a guaranteed safe haven. On June 20, 2013, in Arizona, 19 firefighters were forced to deploy their shelters fighting the Yarnell Fire, but none survived the heat inside.
Division Chief John Kelso said this is one example of why constant training is so important.
"There's so many other things that you should be doing ahead of that moment, that snapshot in time, that truly is the last ditch effort," he said. "All the skills that the firefighters bring to the fire, they have to keep up on, just like with a football team. You have to run the plays, you have to practice every day for the game day."
He noted that it is critical to be fully prepared for whatever those fires may bring.