MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) — More than 5,000 firefighters are still on the front lines in Butte County fighting the Camp Fire. Just a few months ago, some of them were cadets in the California Wildland Fire Academy.
For seasonal firefighters, they undergo integral training in the form of live fire exercises, which take place during hot, dry conditions for wild fires in Marin County.
“We get our seasonal firefighters out to the fire line with active fire. We are able to create a real life environment where they are pressured, but still in a safe environment where we can monitor what they are doing and teach them the fundamentals,” said Bret McTigue, the Marin County Fire Battalion Chief.
The training teaches them more than just firefighting techniques.
Firefighters-in-training got to experience first-hand how hot real flames can blaze and how much smoke they can produce.
“Your eyes are watering and you’re coughing,” said Jack McKernan, a seasonal firefighter. “It’s invaluable.”
“And just to feel that on your body is a whole different experience rather than learning it in the classroom,” explained Cameron Robinson.
Their training also teaches them effective communication in emergency situations.
“Communication is huge in every aspect, no matter whether you’re talking to your buddy on the hose lay to if an emergency pops up and you have to relay communication to your supervisor,” said McKernan.
“It’s a teamwork environment and we all need to be functioning at a high team environment,” said Chief McTigue.
After hours of intense drills, recruits realize another important necessity in wild land firefighting: taking breaks.
Chief McTigue said that on real fires, firefighters fight as hard as they possibly can and then, when the moment is safe, they refuel.
“To get a nice cold bottle of water and a shot of Gatorade after going up the hill and fighting fire definitely feels good,” said McKernan.
But they often don’t have much time before they have to get back to work.
At the end of the day, after the smoke clears, firefighters stay behind to mop up. They turn up every little bit of dirt so that they can leave the fire scene knowing that the blaze won’t rekindle or reignite from any source.
Recruits in the academy leave ready for the hectic California fire season.
“What we are doing today is building the next generation of firefighters in the state of California,” said McTigue.