Multi-Agency Wildland Preparedness Exercise in San Diego County Comes Ahead of Wildfire Season


May is Wildfire Awareness Month and agencies across the state are preparing themselves and their communities for the upcoming fire season.

The California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) participated in the 20th Annual San Diego County Multi-Agency Wildland Preparedness Exercise earlier this month with the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association and the San Diego County Fire Chiefs. The goal of this 3-day drill, which took place on the Barona Band of Mission Indians Reservation, was to reinforce the basic principles of wildland fire operations for to ensure tight coordination among local and state fire and law enforcement personnel.

Cal OES also worked alongside the multi-agency incident management team (IMT) that spent six months planning the drill. Specifically, during the exercise, Cal OES supported local government agencies by answering questions on ensuring emergencies are tracked appropriately through resource requests and reimbursements on costs incurred during a wildfire.

“It was a huge undertaking involving a lot of different agencies,” said Tony Rouhotas Jr., Cal OES Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief, Region VI, “The team that made this happen should be proud of the product they delivered, and I hope other operational areas can achieve the same success that San Diego County has.”

The drill was set up to run like an actual incident including the establishment of a base camp, incident command post, and mobile communications center. On each day of the drill, nine strike teams of engines and law enforcement personnel rotated through three training branches, which were designed to challenge participants in fire ground skills, fire ground management, and tactical decision making.

“The readiness exercise also allows the opportunity for all agencies to establish foundational working relationships, build upon existing relationship/partnerships and network with outside entities prior to a wildland event, which is a key component in fighting wildfires,” said Bill Frederick, San Marcos Fire Department Division Chief and Incident Commander for the exercise.

In addition to wildfire readiness skills, approximately 750 regional participants were trained in emergency communications, firefighter survival, structure defense and hose deployments under simulated emergency conditions.

“This training event is a key element in maintaining firefighter preparedness as we move into the hot, dry summer months and the region’s traditional fire season,” said Sonny Saghera, Fire Captain and Public Information Officer for Heartland Fire & Rescue.

All fire agencies in San Diego were represented this year including local government, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, California State Parks, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Tribal Government Fire Agencies.  Law enforcement agencies included the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, the San Diego Police Department, and the Barona Tribal Police. This year was also the first for the team to coordinate with San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, who ran a parallel drill with the County Emergency Operations Center.