Wildfire training, 4 mock fire scenarios; STGnews videocast, photo gallery

LEEDS – At 8 a.m. Saturday, around 90 volunteer firefighters from different Washington County fire departments gathered at Leeds City Park to participate in wildfire training workshops. The workshops included four different scenarios including structure protection, mobile attack, hose lays and sand table exercises each specifying in a certain firefighting technique.

This is the time of year to knock the dust off the engines, perform maintenance on the trucks, such as oil and fuel changes, train new volunteers and refresh essential techniques and procedures for wildfire fighting, Washington County Fire Warden Adam Heyder said. Training will focus on the basic rules of engagement or LCES: lookout, communication, escape route and safety zone.

“The biggest thing about training is if you think you know it all, you fail,” Leeds firefighter Bailey Muir said. “You have to know your limitations and the limitations of those in your group.”

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Videocast by Amber Green, St. George News

“The cheat grass is starting to cure and get the purple tint which gives me a twinge,” Area Fire Management Officer Mike Melton said. “The most important thing is that everyone goes home at the end of the day. I mean, heck, it’s fun but when someone gets hurt it takes the fun away.”

The biggest concerns with fire season are around the community and the preservation of life and property, Melton said. Lightning is the No. 1 natural cause of fire, and debris burning is the No. 1 human cause. The public is asked to do their part by cleaning up fire hazards in the yard and taking caution when burning weeds.

A common misunderstanding is that houses burn down from the weight of flames, but they don’t, they burn down from the embers in the air that gather on the eaves of houses and on decks, Peterson said. Most people will evacuate a house or structure at sight of a fire, but firefighters must check all houses for elderly, disabled and animals.

Participants at the wildfire training workshops prep for fire season, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Participants at the wildfire training workshops prep for fire season, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“When it comes to animals, firefighters can either turn them loose or leave them alone,” Peterson said. “But you have to think about it, you don’t want to just open the gates for wild horses or pitbulls. Every situation is different. In the end, no one will say you did wrong, we accept in our culture the choices each of us make.”

Steve Harris became a volunteer firefighter for Hurricane because of the day-to-day challenges, responsibility and for the dangerous nature of the work.

“The fires can get real wild in our area because we have a diverse fuel type,” Harris said, pointing to growth of foxtails near his boot. “Flash-fuel types like cheat grass are one of the most dangerous fuel types. If a fire reaches a grassy field, it will just take off.”

When it comes to protecting structures, the key as a firefighter is to protect first him or herself, second the people who live in the area and third people’s properties, Washington County firefighter Charles Peterson said. Part of protecting people’s property is keeping an eye out for things like propane tanks and fenced animals.

“Outdoor cooking is popular especially during this time of year,” Peterson said. “Propane tanks are highly dangerous.”

Capt. Kade Beacham demonstrates how to perform a burnout with a drip torch to participants of the wildfire training train for fire season, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Capt. Kade Beacham demonstrates how to perform a burnout with a drip torch to participants of the wildfire training train for fire season, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

As a last resort, firefighters are encouraged to start a fire as a barrier called a burnout, which will either absorb the fuel from the main fire, or start another one. Firefighters use either a drip torch or a fuse (similar to a road flare) for this technique. Santa Clara firefighter Ty Hansen, who has fought fires in several different states over 13 years, has used the burnout technique frequently to stop a fire from spreading.

“It’s a lot of responsibility because you are starting another fire and it could go either way,” Hansen said. “It’s a slow process, but it can save houses.”

For the hose lay workshop Hildale Fire Capt. Porter Barlow discussed the critical need for possessing the essential equipment. Keeping a hose clamp on their person at all times helps in a case where the firefighter who is spraying gets down low where he can’t see his partner to signal to shut off the valve, Barlow said. Firefighters can be hesitant to use their hoses because they are a little high maintenance.

“Some hoses you have to fold up a certain way so they feed from the bottom,” Barlow said. “Most of the work is putting them back together.”

Participants of the wildfire training demonstrate laying hose, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Participants of the wildfire training demonstrate laying hose, Leeds, Utah, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

For the mobile attack workshop Heyder discussed the importance of being familiar with the different operation systems of the brush trucks. Mobile attack is one of the more dangerous firefighting techniques, Heyder said. Firefighters are right up in the smoke which can be disorienting and obscure sight.

“You are right on the front line. We call it one foot in the black,” Heyder said. “Caution is essential, even down to where you park the truck, tires will burn.”

The sand table top exercise recreated a scenario that occurred in 1995 resulting in two deaths from poor communications and false assumptions, Santa Clara firefighter Steve Ikuta said. He used matchbox fire trucks, tiny cows and even a gum wrapper to depict two different scenarios.

“You fight how you train,” Ikuta said. The most satisfying aspect of fighting fires, “is everyone coming home at night to fight another day.”

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