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Copter 2 of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s Air Operations Division dumps a load of water during in-service fire training at Lake Hodges in Escondido, Calif. May 30. Engine 62 of the Miramar Fire Department was one of three engines battling the simulated wildland fire from the left flank, alongside two other engines working on the right flank.

Photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger

Miramar firefighters shine during joint fire suppression training

4 Jun 2013 | Cpl. Melissa Wenger

During the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s in-service fire training at Lake Hodges in Escondido, Calif. May 30, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar firefighters joined four other engines from all over San Diego County in preparation for the summer’s fire suppression. 

The firefighters deployed approximately 1,000 feet of hose, executed a fire shelter drill, received air support, and closed with an after action report.

 The training was an annual cooperative effort between various stations serving the neighborhoods of San Diego, including Engine 9 of La Jolla, Engine 35 of University City, Engine 40 of Rancho Peñasquitos, Engine 44 of Mira Mesa and Engine 62 of Miramar. Training jointly correlates with how the stations will be serving the city.

“We’re no longer just responding to certain areas just because that’s where the border is,” said Greg Donnelly, battalion chief with the San Diego Fire Department and a San Diego native. “You may very well be the closest engine or the closest truck or the closest ambulance to some other agency’s jurisdiction, and as taxpayers, we want to make sure that they get the service they need as quickly and most appropriately as they possibly can.”

According to Donnelly, the fire season traditionally starts around July 1.

“The last several years, it’s been really, really early, so we’re trying to get started [training] earlier too,” said Donnelly. “It’s an opportunity for all the crews to get some of the equipment out, review it, review all the safety items … and how to protect lives and property. We don’t want to be surprised; we want to make sure that our equipment works together and that our terminology is the same so that when we work together … we’re all sounding the same.”

According to John Prigmore, a firefighter with the Miramar Fire Department and an Orange County, Calif. native, the safety briefing prior to the training events gives the firefighters time to familiarize themselves with the plan of action and the modes of communication or radio channels needed to connect with other fire stations.

 “It’s important because when you have different agencies, everyone has their own way of doing business,” said Prigmore. “By coming out here and training together, we figure out how they do it, how we do it, and hopefully they pretty much work together; and they always do because the training is always geared towards cooperation.”

 One of the first tasks the firefighters accomplished after arriving on the scene of the simulated wildland fire - was deploying a progressive hose lay.

“A progressive hose lay is where, let’s say, we have a fire on top of a hill or mountain, and we need to get up there to put it out and surround it with water,” said Prigmore. “The hose lay is the hose starting from the engine or your water source and extending it all the way to where the fire is at or the head of the fire, getting around the fire to extinguish it.”

 While making their way around the simulated area of fire, the firefighters received support from a friend in the sky. One of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s Air Operation Division’s rescue helicopters, Copter 2, siphoned water from the nearby lake and sprayed it over the area where the fire would have advanced.

“They’re a terrific resource … but if we can’t talk to them, then we can’t use them,” said Donnelly. “They’re not going to come in and go to work without having direct communication with somebody on the ground, so that’s why it’s so important for us  to practice this.”

 The firefighters also practiced a safety tactic which involves unfolding and entering a fire-resistant shelter in a short period of time.

“We never want to get into one of those things, but they are the last resource if we are getting overrun by fire which would protect us a little bit from the heat,” said Donnelly. “So we practice; we try to get in at least once or twice a year, where [firefighters] have to get into those tents and every now and then, you throw a curve ball at them and say, ‘well, there are only four tents and five people on the crew, so what happens?”

In a fashion familiar to most Marines, after the day’s training events, the participants huddled together to debrief with an after action report.  Donnelly went over their performance and what they could do to be better prepared in the future.
One of the reasons that this annual training took place earlier than it has in the past is that this year’s prediction for the fire season is a bit grim.

“If you look at the lake over there, you can see how dry it is and how low the water is,” said Ken Ishmael, captain with the Miramar Fire Department and a San Diego native. “Our live field moisture this year in May is looking like live field moisture levels in September and October; that’s how bad the brush is right now.”

 At the end of the day, the firefighters from the various stations around San Diego County left better prepared to face their familiar foe.

“About every five years, we have a bad fire season,” said Ishmael. “We’re due for one this year.”

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing