The phrase “It takes a village” is true in firefighting, especially when it comes to attacking wildfires.
About 80 firefighters from multiple agencies learned more about working together and wildfire-fighting techniques during an all-day training hosted by Evergreen Fire Rescue on May 13. Joining EFR were Clear Creek, Genesee, Foothills and Indian Hills fire departments plus the Highland Rescue Team and Jeffco Open Space.
It’s important that fire departments have established a rapport and know how to communicate especially since departments request mutual aid if fires grow, according to Einar Jensen, a spokesman for Evergreen Fire/Rescue.
“This is a great opportunity to do mountain training, especially up here,” Capt. Dan Noell with the Clear Creek Fire Authority said. “These are the departments who are going to respond.”
Foothills Fire Chief Rod Cameron said the face-to-face training was beneficial, so firefighters know each other and are familiar with different departments’ routines.
The firefighters moved through three training sites: laying hoses to fight a wildfire, digging lines around a wildfire and assessing structures to determine whether they could survive a wildfire.
Since teamwork was the goal of the day, the three groups of firefighters had representatives from all of the departments, so they worked together on the tasks.
There were no actual flames involved in the training. Nonetheless, firefighters imagined how they would react if a wildfire was moving in their direction.
Fire crews practiced laying hoses in Elk Meadow and running the pumps necessary to get water to a wildfire. Jensen said using the pumps to get water from tenders, which are fire trucks that haul water to a scene, is crucial since many areas in the foothills don’t have hydrants.
He explained that wildland hoses weigh less and the smaller, so they can be moved longer distances more easily.
Matt White, Evergreen Fire/Rescues fire and fuels coordinator, told crews that they have learned that not all departments have compatible connectors between hoses, an issue that can easily be fixed. He also said crews shouldn’t wait to get water onto the fire while more hoses are being connected.
As a wildfire approaches, fire departments use a triage approach to look at structures and determine which can be saved and which can’t.
A team of firefighters comes to homes, and in 15 minutes, assesses whether they likely could survive a wildfire, whether it could survive with minimal or a large amount of work from firefighters, or whether there wouldn’t be enough time before the wildfire arrived to make the home able to survive a wildfire.
Firefighters look for whether there are faucets and hoses near the house, whether the house has been prepared in case of wildfire called home hardening and whether mitigation has been done around the home. Jensen said driveways also are a concern, especially if they are steep, have curves or if there’s a gate across it.
Of special concern are propane tanks, whether small tanks for grills or large tanks for home heating, since they are highly combustible. Firefighters also are looking to see whether firewood is stacked next to a home.
In addition, they want to make sure there’s a safety zone for firefighters in case a wildfire comes upon them as they are fighting the blaze.
Four homeowners in the Pine Valley neighborhood in Clear Creek County volunteered their homes to firefighters to assess, and after different teams performed their assessments, they compared notes on what they found or didn’t find.
At the Beaver Brook trailhead, crews used a variety of tools to dig lines and learned about how to coordinate their efforts.
Jensen noted that wildland firefighting is a lot of digging to help create a break to slow down wildfires.
“It’s a lot easier on everyone if we work together,” Capt. Peter Greenstone with Genesee Fire Rescue told a crew.
He suggested that the wildland crews find tools that are comfortable to use since they likely will be digging lines for many hours.
Lt. Mike Amdur with Foothills Fire and Rescue said that if crew members know the area, they should bring that local knowledge to the rest of the firefighters.
“Even if this is your first season (on the crew), if you have an idea, share it,” Greenstone added.