Ready, Willing and Able

Seventeen Cal Fire engine crews and seasonal firefighters from the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit went through seven hours of training drills last week at the Ahwahnee Regional Park in preparation for fire season.

“These drills are important because the potential is here for a devastating fire season this summer,” said Fire Prevention Specialist Karen Guillemin-Kanawyer. “The teamwork amongst an engine crew is very important. They are like a baseball team - different people at different positions, but all on the same mission.”

Nearly 120 fire fighters from Cal Fire stations in Ahwahnee, Bass Lake, Coarsegold, Mariposa, Cathey’s Valley, Rancheria, Coulterville, Raymond, Hornitos, Los Banos, and Usona participated in the drills.

She stressed that about 98% of fires are man-made.

“Everyone needs to stop and think ‘fire prevention’ all summer long,” said Guillemin-Kanawyer. “If everyone would use extreme caution, we could eliminate 98% of wildland fires.”

Preparedness drills included ground and structure fire safety techniques, use of residential water supplies, fire line construction, progressive hose lay and firefighter survival.

The structure fire drill included an engine arriving on-scene to protect a house in harm’s way of a wildland fire, shutting off propane and electricity, looking for overhanging tree limbs, checking for roof vents, and quickly clearing fire hazard material close to the house, like a wood pile or lawn furniture.

The crews also received instructions on how to tap into a private, residential water tank, which may be necessary this season due to the lack of water in many area ponds.

Many of these green water storage tanks have been installed without the 2 1/2" Fire Hose Connection. In 1991 PRC 4290 added requirements that all new construction in the SRA have water storage or access to water on site. The water storage has to be accessible for fire apparatus. The 4290 tank flyer is an attempt to communicate to owners of these older tanks that it is in their best interest to add a fire hose connection to their tank at a cost of $200-500, depending on tank need. The average tank is 2,500 gallons, and contains enough water to fill five fire engines.

The recent Madera Mariposa Merced CAL FIRE preparedness training at Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park was targeted at practicing alternative ways to draft water out of the top access to the storage tanks using portable pumps and other methods. By far the fastest way to access the water is if the tank has a 2 1/2” Fire Hose Connection already installed. The seconds and minutes saved by having this water accessible and near your home can make the difference when it comes to defending your home or stopping a fire in your home.

Communicating through fire engine ‘horn’ signals was rehearsed by all crews. One horn blast alerts the crew to return to the engine to receive some information - two blasts tells the crew to roll-up hoses and be prepared to leave the scene - three blasts of the horn is the signal for ‘cut and run,’ drop the fire hose, and immediately leave the area for safety.

According to Guillemin-Kanawyer, the drills added another level of training for personnel and equipment for the upcoming fire season.

“Each crew made a three and a half mile hike over a per-determined course in full safety gear,” Guillemin-Kanawyer said.

Each firefighter carries a minimum of 25 pounds of fire equipment including an ax, shovel, hose clamps, two quarts of water, flares, a McCloud (scraping and raking hand tool) or Polaski (ax and grubbing hand tool), and individual fire shelter.

During the drills, the incident command system (ICS) was implemented and an organizational team was used to run the operation.

“The drills also provided an opportunity for engine crews with seasonal firefighters to work together in training scenarios,” Guillemin-Kanawyer said.

Cal Fire Captain and trainer Keith Swope said the crews were doing well.

“We’ve had a couple minor things missed, but that’s why we do this training ... ensuring everyone knows what their responsibilities are and that everyone is on the same page,” Swope said.

First year firefighter Lisa Kohen, 26, recently went through the 15-day new hire academy put on by the Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced unit, and is now working at the Hornitos station.

The 2006 Hilmar High School graduate, became a paid call firefighter (PCF) with Merced County right after high school - just like her parents. When not fighting fires, or helping out on the family’s almond ranch, she worked with an after school program at Selma Herndon Elementary School in Livingston for seven years.

“Both my parents being firefighters is what got me started in firefighting,” Kohen said. “I enjoy it all - one of my favorite parts is the family that comes along with the job - the comradery amongst all the firefighters. If you have that, it makes the job that much more enjoyable.”

The May 29 preparedness training in Ahwahnee was challenging, but went well for Kohen.

“Being a new firefighter I’m learning a lot every day,” Kohen said. “The training and drills are a challenge right now ... it’s a learning process but it’s coming along. I feel my instructors are training me and my fellow crew members well, so we can have a safe fire season. I feel I’m ready for fire season.”

Former Fresno State football player Bobby Shepard, 26, of Lodi, with an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology, and a masters degree in Sports Psychology, is also a ‘rookie’ firefighter this season.

Shepard is a graduate of the Fresno City College 20-week Fire Academy, and recently went through three-weeks of additional Cal Fire training.

“I played sports my whole life, and was always around people who enjoyed staying active, and working hard,” Shepard said while sharpening his skills at making a fire break. “It’s been a good transition - I love every minute of it.”

Guillemin-Kanawyer said if people are uncertain of the safety of an activity like burning or the time of day best to weedeat, they should call a Cal Fire station for advice.

“The stations would rather receive that call, than a call that you have a fire at your house,” Guillemin-Kanawyer said.