Camp Pendleton wildfire school

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Camp Pendleton Fire School
A large cloud of smoke rises off the grounds of Camp Pendleton during the base’s 30th annual Fire School training exercise, June 9. Photo: Pfc. John Robbart III

The Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton in southern California has been hosting wildfire schools since at least 1972. When I attended them the training included the suppression of live grass fires as well as some lecture sessions. A few extras to make it more interesting included blank rifle cartridges being ignited by the fires and whizzing past your head, and more than once we got chased out of the fire camp by tear gas that was deployed by nearby Marines in training.

Here is an article distributed by Camp Pendleton about the current fire school.

6/16/2010 By Pfc. John Robbart III , Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Firefighters extinguish nearly 300 fires on Camp Pendleton every year, making sharpened firefighting skills a critical job requirement.
To remain ready for the fast approaching fire season, more than 350 Southern California firefighters from 50 agencies recently participated in a training session at Camp Pendleton, June 7-11. The exercise gave firefighters a chance to practice teamwork by extinguishing fires in a controlled environment.

“The exercise was designed to involve firefighters in live fire-training drills that teach them how to work cooperatively in a wild-land fire scenario,” said Mike J. Wakoski, incident commander, Camp Pendleton Fire School, who also works as a fire chief with San Bernadino National Forest. “The end state is to create a safe and efficient wild-land firefighting force.”

During the scenarios, instructors started controlled fires, and had each crew focus on working together to starve the fire of its fuel, said Mike A. Godde, crew boss, Los Angeles Fire Department.

“Live fire-training is really valuable for firefighters to see how unpredictable fire can be,” said Godde, as he watched his crew section off a burn-zone, which ensures the fire does not spread to other areas.

Training will help fluidity between firefighters during a time of crisis, said Wykin K. Harris, lead firefighter, Engine 35, San Bernadino Forest Service.

“The exercise is vital for the new guys,” said Harris. “This training is an opportunity for them to see if they can handle the stress of the noise, the smoke, the fatigue.”

Not only is this training essential for participants, but it is also used by their superiors to practice leading the men into a real fire emergency.

“The fire school allows us to work out the kinks before the fire season rolls around,” said Fire Chief Jeff W. Wilkerson, deputy chief of operations, Camp Pendleton Fire and Emergency Services.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.