May 9, 2013

Firefighters train for wildland conditions at Modesto Reservoir

Firefighters from throughout the region are setting up for a nearly week-long training at the Modesto Reservoir. The hands-on training will cover firefighter safety, mobile fire attack, hand-line construction, fire weather, and structure protection during wildland fires.

WATERFORD -- Firefighters took to the Modesto Reservoir on Thursday to refresh their skills in areas such as digging hand lines, laying progressive hoses and deploying emergency shelters.

The hands-on wildland training, part of annual requirements for firefighters, continues through Tuesday.

"The purpose of this training is to enhance our firefighters' wildland firefighting knowledge so they can do their job safely," Deputy Chief Mike Wapnowski with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District said in a news release.

Wapnowski pointed out that wildfire season is under way, and Stanislaus County resources already have been deployed to fight the Camarillo fire in Southern California.

"It's looking like it's going to be a busy year," Modesto Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Hugo Patino said during training exercises Thursday.

Among other stations, firefighters practiced "progressive hose lay." Patino explained that an "anchoring engine" is parked in a secure place, then hoses are brought to where the fire is. Once that area is contained, the hose is clamped off and another hose attached to it to extend the line. Patino said he has seen hoses extended as long as a mile at some wildland fires.

"It can be quite the dance to watch them do it," Patino said.

Firefighters also took part in exercises to dig hand lines, or breaks intended to cut off a fire. These are often created by bulldozers, but sometimes have to be done by hand, Patino said.

And they also practiced clearing a spot and deploying their emergency shelters — tentlike covers used if a fire unexpectedly turns toward a crew.

The afternoon called for an exercise in "structure triage," which is just like it sounds — structures are analyzed for their defensibility. Patino said that kind of work has become more important in recent years as people have moved into wilderness areas.

While the training can come in handy for local firefighting efforts, crews are just as likely to use them for mutual-aid calls, such as the one that came up last week from Southern California. California leads all states in its mutual-aid system, Patino said. Strike crews from all over can be summoned to a wildfire wherever it breaks out.

Training like what's going on this week helps ensure everyone's on the same page when they get there.

Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.

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