Standardized Training Increases Advanced Skill Set of California Firefighters

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
There’s a fire at number One Main Street—and 32 firefighters are on the scene… Cut: sound… Inside, the walls are blackened and the smell of smoke is thick—not because of the flames that have just been put out —but because it’s the site of many fires. These firefighters from Riverside County are taking part in a structure fire training session conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in the foothill town of Ione (Eye-Own). The five story building they’re swarming through is fire resistant and built to burn time and again. (sound up, then fades) Unfortunately, not all firefighters get training opportunities much beyond fire academy or on-the-job classes for new recruits. Captain John Arenz (Ahr-unz) has worked for the City of Emeryville Fire Department for nearly two decades. He says the lack of advanced training can be problematic—or worse—when firefighters from several departments come together to fight a wildfire. Cut: Cut: JohnA2 (:07) “We’ve been getting killed. Calabasas in ’96 and last year at the Cedar Fire and we’re going to try and stop that.” The Cedar fire last year was the largest single wildfire in state history, burning more than 270-thousand acres. In all, the fires in Southern California charred over 700-thousand acres and killed two-dozen people. A Blue Ribbon Commission was formed. Its report to policymakers pointed out there are no mandated minimum firefighting training standards in a state where thousands of acres burn every year. Cut: Dallas1 (:05) “The record’s clear we’re going to have more rather than less of these firestorms. Dallas Jones is the former director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services and currently works with the California Professional Firefighters organization. Cut: Dallas2 (:21) “But what’s happened in probably the last ten years, because of budget reductions, much of the emphasis that had been on training, has been pulled to maintaining these department operations. So you’ll find a lot of your younger personnel that don’t have the training that they really do need on these wildland fires.” The report proposes that every California firefighter share the same training in battling wildfires and structure fires. Firefighters say a standardized training program would save more lives and property, and that models for such a program already exist. C-D-F Deputy Director and Chief of Fire Protection, Jim Wright points to a training and advancement system for law enforcement officers, known as POST, or Peace Officers Standards and Training. Cut: Jimw2 (:15) “A lot of California firefighters have taken training on their own, paid on their own to achieve this, that’s how we’ve gone along. But a better system where we could be assured people are getting training that’s out there in the fire season would be a training program much like the POST system.” He says the bottom line is that the commission’s report is spurring discussion. Cut: JimW1 (:19) “Funding is probably our largest hurdle, and I think there are many ideas out there about how this might be addressed. I’ve heard such recommendations such as a surcharge on fire insurance… Many ideas like that are coming about as how we could go about doing that.” Commission members say it will take a combination of actions—by the legislature and departments to establish a system of mandatory coursework— but luckily they say the classes already exist in a number of individual fire training programs. Meanwhile, John Arenz anticipates he’ll be called again to fight another big one. Arenz says he saw first hand battling fires near San Diego last year that every bit of preparation makes all firefighters safer. Cut: JohnA3 (:) Anybody who’s been to a lot of school then been to the Cedar Fire were still in awe and still fell back on their training a lot… one of my crew persons had minimal training and it was her first wildland fire and… I know for a fact it was an epiphany… it was something she’d never seen before.” SOC