IONE, Calif. – With the terrible drought California is currently facing, the upcoming fire season and the inevitability of large-scale wildfires might seem daunting to anyone new to the firefighting mission.
The California National Guard and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) kicked off this year’s highly anticipated fire season with it’s annual joint training at the Cal Fire training Academy in Ione, April 5.
For many, the training is a refresher course – an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the equipment, expectations and standard operating procedures of the joint effort. For others however, the training serves as an introduction to the world of firefighting.
“It has been good to see all the key players and work with the [Cal Fire] and the civilian assets,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Booher, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot with Company B, 1-126th Aviation Regiment, said. “We’ve been able to interact and mingle with these guys and see how they do business.”
Booher, who deployed to Afghanistan almost immediately after graduating from aviation school, is no stranger to flying. However, he said he has not flown with civilians on the crew before.
“There is a learning curve for both sides,” Booher said. “Cal Fire follows the Federal Aviation Administration structure while we are strictly military.”
The two organizations use different call signs and terminology. In order to function as a cohesive team, everyone needs to be on the same page. Booher said this is where thorough briefs, planning and preparation become very important.
“The more we prepare ourselves before takeoff, the more effective we can be in the fire mission,” he said. “It’s good to have this training and see it all starting to come together.”
Spc. Steven Hauger, a crew chief with Company A, 3-140th Service and Support Aviation Battalion, also thought the training was beneficial. Both soldiers agreed that it went more smoothly than they thought it would.
“Working with Cal Fire went off pretty flawlessly, much better than I expected,” Hauger said. “There were little hiccups here and there but nothing we can’t overcome.”
Hauger, who has never been involved in a joint training before, was surprised by how much Cal Fire already knows about the National Guard.
“They know exactly how we operate,” he said. “They know rank, they know how the helicopters work. They seem to have thought of everything in the process.”
The emphasis of the training was teamwork and communication.
“There is a lot of teamwork involved from crew chiefs to pilots to fuelers to mechanics and we all have to be communicating for [the mission] to go off without an hiccups or problems,” Hauger said. “We seem to be working together very well.”
Overall, the training, which is improved every year based on feedback and experiences, helps build relationships between the different agencies and provides a solid foundation for the firefighting mission.
“I think this type of training is a necessity to work with an outside entity who isn’t trained like we are trained,” Hauger said. “Without it, I don’t think this type of program would be in place at all.”