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A firefighter with the Camp Pendleton Fire Department explains the scheme of maneuver to another firefighter during a controlled burn training exercise on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 3.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie

Camp Pendleton hosts interagency Fire School

5 Jun 2020 | Lance Cpl. Broc Story The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Every year, smoke can be visible in areas across Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton as the base hosts its joint fire annual training school at various ranges across the installation. This year’s fire school, running from June 1, 2020 to June 5, 2020, sees 28 separate fire departments from surrounding communities participating.

The school consists of setting and extinguishing prescribed fires, which provides the fire agencies with an annual certification of training while also keeping the base clear of overgrown vegetation to prepare for the fire season, making the base fire compliant.

“To operate legally on upcoming wildfire seasons, firefighters need to qualify on a specific level, and the ability to do these burns gives them the qualifications needed. Burning out these areas deliberately helps with future extinguishing efforts and keeps the community safe.” Kenneth Helgerson, fire chief, Camp Pendleton Fire Department

Preparation for the week-long event begins months in advance to ensure the departments can train effectively and safely aboard the installation. Strategically planning the allotted 2,500 acres of burn area to be used is an extensive process for the Camp Pendleton Fire Department.

Carefully dedicating the training areas enables the base to effectively clear overgrown brush, creating safer ranges for Marines to train on year-round.

“We get a significant benefit in burning areas under safe conditions with favorable weather that helps to prevent fires that are started by training from impacting other areas on Pendleton or leaving Pendleton to the surrounding communities,” said Helgerson. “We are safely burning out these buffers so that if there is training that creates a secondary fire, we have a good defense mechanism to keep these fires small and manageable.”

Fire School Photo by Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie
A firefighter ignites vegetation with a drip torch during a controlled burn training as part of CPFD's Fire School on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., June 3.

Due to Camp Pendleton’s expansive live-fire training areas, it is vital that the departments are briefed on the hazards that may be encountered during the exercise. Before each day of training begins, the various agencies gather for a morning safety brief on what is to be expected from the day’s events. During the briefing, Col. Edward C. Greeley, commanding officer of the Security and Emergency Services Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, expresses his gratitude to the firefighters for their work in reducing the threat of wildfires on base.

“A significant wild-land fire on this base will stop training in its tracks, and for a unit that is training to deploy for a combat mission, there is a finite window where you can get that training completed,” said Col. Greely. “The fuel reduction that you all complete to earn your qualifications contributes directly to the readiness of the Marine Corps and its mission to deploy overseas.”

By treating the Fire School as a significant fire event, the agencies are able to practice lifesaving communication and emergency coordination to be more effective in real-world scenarios. With many of the agencies working in areas surrounding Camp Pendleton, the departments rely on each other to respond efficiently to emergency wildfire scenarios.

“Being able to mirror the complexity of a large scale incident helps us know for sure we can handle such incidents if they occur,” said Helgerson. “Our department is then qualified to help our neighbors off base as well.”

Through sharing this joint training exercise, the firefighters throughout the state are better prepared to face the challenges to come from future fire seasons. Learning from each other enables them to assist their peers within the varying agencies.