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Fire Season at SLAC

(Photo - Fire station) With the summer heat upon us, fire crews are training for the wildfire season. In the coming weeks, the three crews of Palo Alto Fire Station 7—located on the SLAC site—will fight simulated grassfires, practice fire engine maneuvers, and survey the area for changes in accessibility.

Grassfires are unpredictable. As a blaze sucks in oxygen and blares heat, it pulls air currents in new directions, effectively creating its own weather. Between the topography, humidity, and weather, the crews have a lot to handle.

In one firefighting simulation, Captain Doug Conn pulls the engine's fire hose for Firefighter Stew Hill, as he heads out with an additional 200 feet of hose strapped to his back. Conn follows with his own hosepack. Operator Catherine Capriles controls discharge of the tank's 500 gallons and watches the terrain so no one gets trapped by the flames.

For the next two months, all three crews will practice wildland fire fighting training using two vehicles. In addition to the regular fire engine, the smaller, four-wheel-drive patrol unit carries 150 gallons of water and climbs off-road terrain with as much as a 30 percent grade.

Station 7 crews continually survey the 50 square miles in their purview for changes to access routes. On the quieter roads and out in the grasslands, crews check for vegetation encroaching on trails. They also look for roadside shrubs and overhanging tree limbs that may block the fire truck. Such routine inspections have caught environmental changes that would have cost the crew time when it counted most.

Grassfire do's and don'ts:

When camping, do use designated barbeque pits and build fires in protective fire rings.

If you're not sure if what you see is a fire, do call it in. Although it might be exhaust from heavy industry, steam from the cooling towers, or horses kicking up dust, your call may catch a fire at an early stage.

Don't pull over on grassy patches. The heat radiating from the catalytic converter under your car can ignite dry grass.

Don't assume someone else has called 911. Firefighters respond to multiple reports differently than a single caller by requesting more equipment and thinking about staging and tactical elements of fire attack before they arrive on the scene.

Don’t throw cigarettes out of car windows.

—Krista Zala
   SLAC Today, June 20, 2006

Image: Firefighter Stewart Hill at SLAC's Palo Alto Fire Station 7. (Click on image for larger version.)