Refresher course in wildland firefighting techniques

Dressed head to toe in full gear, San Diego firefighters trudged up a Mission Trails hill of dry, highly flammable brush.

“It’s actually a requirement that every firefighter at the state, national and local level must meet,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Battalion Chief Tricia Pollett. “This is our wildland refresher training. Our intent is to take hose out in realistic situations up hills and through vegetation.

After a few hours of classroom work, the firefighters head outside for hands-on training. For many of them, the training is more of a refresher course where they’ll practice a variety of techniques designed to prepare for a long hot summer and fall. First, they worked on getting water to a fire.

“The way we carry the hose out to a location and connect as we go is just a little bit different than what we do in typical structural firefighting,” said Pollett.

The team practiced replacing a portion of a fire hose quickly – an important skill as hose lines tend to break or burn through in rugged conditions. Crews also deployed bright green practice fire shelters, working to cover themselves completely in a matter of seconds.

“Fire shelters are designed as a very last line of protection when a crew is being overrun,” said Pollett. “People have survived by getting low to the ground putting those thermal barriers around them.”

While firefighters worked on the ground, others practiced in the air, dropping water on vegetation and on the crew below. There are canyons in and around much of San Diego. These firefighters know the training will be crucial when a canyon fire breaks out.

“We call them wildland urban interface and it’s basically where homes are at the top of almost every canyon that we have,” she said.

The work of protecting homes from fire is not on the shoulders of firefighters alone. Pollett said homeowners have an important role to play, and encouraged residents to seek out resources online.

“There’s information on how to protect your home from wildland vegetation fires and things that you can do to help make your home defendable,” said Pollett.

To learn more about protecting your home, visit the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department website.