By John R. Hawkins
I write to you as the Cal Fire Riverside County fire chief, president of the Riverside County Fire Chief’s Association and as the fire and rescue mutual aid coordinator for Riverside County. Wednesday, April 23, we held a large-scale, multiagency fire, law enforcement and animal services field training exercise in the Idyllwild-Pine Cove areas. I am grateful to the residents of Idyllwild and Pine Cove and Town Crier newspaper for their patience with the exercise and publicizing the training drill for public understanding.
The exercise provided public-safety responders the opportunity to drill on basic concepts and hone their abilities to protect and defend communities. Specifically, we set the following goals for the exercise that ran from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
1. Exercise and evaluate the evacuation function for the wildland fire scenario.
2. Engage the command staff to plan, organize, staff, execute and adjust for a Unified Command incident.
3. Provide a training environment for fire engines, fire crews and firefighting aircraft to improve wildland urban interface skills.
4. Provide the Department of Animal Services a training and evaluation opportunity.
5. Exercise and evaluate fire, and law enforcement communications.
The exercise simulated two fires. The first fire started on the west side of Pine Cove (Norwood at Acorn) and burned east into the community. The second fire started on the south side of Idyllwild (Robin Drive cross of Chickadee) and burned north into town. A 10:15 a.m. situation update provided the following report on conditions:
Two fires, Wood and Robin Incidents.
• Wood Incident, 40-plus acres, critical rate of spread, threat to Pine Cove.
• Robin Incident, 20 acres, critical rate of spread, threat to Idyllwild.
Both incidents have structures involved.
Communities of Pine Cove and Idyllwild structure threat.
Sheriff’s Department evacuating portions of the communities of Pine Cove and Idyllwild using the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce plan.
The exercise proved to be a great success. About 40 engine companies from throughout Riverside County and from Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties participated. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol officers provided law enforcement services. Riverside County Animal Services simulated removing endangered animals. Firefighters practiced wildland firefighting and structural defense tactics and methods.
Very importantly, jurisdictional agencies, including Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire, U.S. Forest Service San Bernardino National Forest, Idyllwild Fire Protection District and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department unified command, ensuring collective and singular command and decision-making. We also linked the County Emergency Operations Center with the fires, ensuring multijurisdictional coordination.
Throughout the entire exercise, the citizens of Idyllwild and Pine Cove were very patient with the increased road and neighborhood traffic, responders working in yards simulating fire and rescue activities, and everything else that possibly inconvenienced community residents. In the end, the value of the exercise cannot be discounted as the public deserves and expects the best from their public safety providers. Both are what we must provide the public.
We play the way we practice.
We appreciate our communities for their patience and the Town Crier for its support.