[KHTS] – About 50 firefighters stood Thursday along a hill in full gear to practice setting fires to the brush at Los Angeles County’s Del Valle Regional Training Center in Castaic.
The drill marked the last day of a four-day training course on ignitions operation, which is the setting of controlled fires as a method of firefighting and prevention.
“We have here a firing methods class, teaching the proper way of setting and starting fires to combat fires,” said Capt. Drew Smith, one of about 10 instructors for the program.
The S-234 Ignition Operations course is one that’s highly sought after, Smith said, attracting students from all around, with experience ranging from five to 25 years or more in firefighting.
The training consisted of two-and-a-half days in classroom and one day of hands-on training. This is the 13th year this particular cadre has hosted the course, which occurs in spring and fall.
“In-class lecture covered fire behavior, firing methods, fuel conditions, fuel condition measurements and how to use those weather measurements and fuel conditions to make accurate fire behavior predictions,” Smith explained.
“All the skills that we learned in class, we get to apply today,” he added.
The hands-on training occurred on a 1-acre stretch of the training center.
In addition to valuable training for the firefighters, the controlled fires would clear dead vegetation in order to allow new brush growth.
Under the supervision of the instructors, the students of the S-234 Cadre set fires along the hills of their outdoor classroom.
Walking down the hill, a short line of firefighters used rakes and hoes to stir up dry leaves and brush. Two of their compatriots followed, lighting the brush on fire.
One of instructors at the front of the line quizzed the students on what they were doing and why.
Other students stood along the road at the top of the hill watching their classmates.
One of these was Batallion Chief Henry Rodriguez, of Inglewood, was taking this Ignitions Operations class as a prerequisite to become a leader of a fire strike group.
“The most valuable part of this training is, for me, the hands-on burning,” Rodriguez said. “All the things we learned in class come together, and the visual component is a really powerful learning tool.”
The course is not only required in Los Angeles, but statewide, as well.
Lana Meade from the Orange County California State Parks system was part of a statewide program, which differs from some of her classmates, most of whom come from the county.
For state parks, this course is a requirement due to the risk of wildfire at parks.
“The amazing caliber of experience with the instructors was very valuable,” Meade said.
The firefighters practiced ringing a tree in fire to burn the brush around its base and filling a large pipe with wood chips in order to burn the excess brush carefully.
Every time the wind changed, the instructors asked the students what the students should do next.
All of the instructors had decades of fire service under their belt.
All of the instructors in the cadre had performed for more than 10 years at a high level of service, said L.A. County Fire Department Battalion Chief and course instructor Anthony Williams.
He finds ignitions operations training to be essential.
“What we do here is give tools to light fires safely,” Williams said, “fighting fire with fire.”
– Mindy Lam