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Training: Firefighters new to their positions gather in Castaic for drill

Posted: June 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Firefighters and hand crews approach a controlled burn, creeping up a hillside during a training drill at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic on Thursday.

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Firefighters braved 90-degree temperatures and a steep Castaic hillside to douse a quarter-acre brushfire other firefighters had started.

That's right - the brush fire Thursday (a day before a real fire erupted in Castaic) was one of many controlled burns started and snuffed out by firefighters during their springtime training exercises on Pitchess Detention Center grounds.

"This is a live-fire training exercise," said Fire Department Capt. Bill Edwards of Canyon Country Fire Station 107 during the recent exercise.

While it's always beneficial for firefighters to train and "feel the heat," Edwards said, the training was specifically geared for firefighters with less than two years in their current rank, whether firefighter or captain.

"This training is invaluable because it hones our skills," Edwards said. "It makes us sharper. It's great for us to practice, it gives us a better understanding of fire behavior, and it really gets us in shape," he said.

Edwards was one of four Station 107 firefighters to take part in the all-day training.

Firefighters wearing bright-yellow protective gear - along with roughly 30 inmates confined at the women's jail facility at Pitchess Detention Center dressed in orange protective gear - spent about 35 minutes getting the hillside fire under control.

The inmates are volunteers who undergo a basic level of training needed to assist regular firefighters. They are always supervised by certified firefighters when called upon to help fight fires, said Fire Department Inspector Brian Riley.

Bringing the fire under control involved first building a fire line around the flames, some of which stretched as high as 4 feet.

"A fire line is created to confine a fire," Riley said. "First, we remove all the brush on the line and then the water teams come in."

The inmates, led by a few firefighters, took about 10 minutes to create the fire line on the steep hillside, which allowed firefighters with hoses to ascend the hill and drench the blaze.

In all, about 50 firefighters and the 30 inmates participated in the training, including Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum.

"We have a phrase we use - ‘We fight as well as we train,'" Niccum said. "This type of live fire training is essential, especially as it looks as though we'll be heading into a normal fire season this year," he said. "For this area, a normal fire season means we'll be busy."




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