Behind the scenes of CALFIRE’s testing regiment

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Even though wildfire season is months away, firefighters train year-round. This week, crews were tested on everything it takes to respond to the front lines.

“All the different types of crews, fire crews from Mendocino County and Humboldt, Del Norte Counties, we bring them together, we run them through a set of events in runs, through a standardization of exercises to make sure that they are ready for this upcoming fire season,” Marty Hobbs, CALFIRE Battalion Chief said.

10 CALFIRE hand crews, six California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation crews, two California Conservation Crews and one Cal Guard participated. Redwood News reporter Lauren Brenner joined two firefighters from the Humboldt Del Norte unit behind the scenes, and went back to see what these tests actually entail.

“That’s really what it’s about. It it is it is a test,” Jeremy Ward, a CALFIRE firefighter said. “They have to pass all these different portions of the test to become fire line eligible.”

Crews are tested every year on what to do at a wildfire, from start to finish.

“So in the morning they go to check in and if they’re there’s a staging area and from staging, they drive around to do what we call a base camp exercise. So they, they get out of the vehicle, we kind of grade them on how they’re going to be into the big base camps where there’s hundreds of people and there’s a restroom exercise there’s a hydration exercise. And then we have a mobile kitchen unit and that’s where they get their lunches,” Hobbs said. “Then they get back to the bus, they put on all their fire gear and then they drive around to do what we call ‘tool out.'”

“They do a tool out where they recite their fire orders and their fire watch out situations,” Chris Curtis, a CALFIRE Unit Forester said.

After a quick administrative check, the crews get back on their buses and drive to the hike test.

“It’s 2.8 miles, mainly uphill. So they hike in full gear with full water. And so we time them on that,” Hobbs said.

The unit forester timed the hike, which is not a race.

“So it’s right about a 65 minutes. And if you come in faster than 60 minutes, then you’re hiking a little bit too fast. You need to pace yourself a little better coming in and over 70 minutes then you are a little bit too slow,” Curtis said. “And everybody keeps a proper spacing, a ten foot spacing, and they communicate along the way of the hazards on the road.”

That ten feet of space is for safety because of all the gear—including chainsaws

“We get a chance to rehydrate and then they go immediately into the line cut, which is another hour of arduous work,” Hobbs said.

Crews draw a numbered coin which indicates which line they will cut. And to pass, that clear cut must be as straight as possible and a certain width, down to bare soil.

“We’ve been doing the this joint exercise for 16 years now, but we’ve been doing this what we call the readiness drill exercise for 30 years,” Hobbs said.

And because lives are on the lines, firefighters must pass or try again.