Firefighting agencies from around Northern Nevada gathered on Wednesday to play in the sand, but there was no sand castle building or fights over shovels.
The Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators members attended for the interagency sand table exercises in preparation for fire season.
“This is a great way for all of us to practice our wildland protection skills, command skills, interagency skills and getting to know the other players within the other agencies,” East Fork Fire Battalion Chief Larry Goss said. “It brings us all together before a big incident.”
The Cooperators are a collaborative effort of Western Nevada’s and eastern California’s local, state, and federal firefighting agencies.
The agencies cover an area from Bridgeport to north of Reno.
Four sand tables were set up at the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden.
Each table represented a different level of wildland fire control that would be used during an event.
The tables were manipulated to simulate exact geographic make-up of an area complete with mounds of yarn representing an active fire and miniature houses and power poles.
Toy trucks and cars were used to represent responding resources.
Participants at each table were a mixture of the agencies that are members of the SFWC.
The exercises were a chance for those members who usually only communicate via dispatch radio channels to work together in the same room, much like they would during an actual fire.
“We are a mutual aid system in Nevada,” Goss said. “Northern Nevada has limited resources to fight the large fires that we sometimes see here. We rely on each other and that is why this is so important. We need to get together and hone our skills as a group before that event happens.”
The simulations allow the agencies to practice everything from their dispatch calls to incident management, specifically using the federally mandated National Incident Management System.
The system paired with Incident Command Management training ensures everyone working a fire is speaking the same language.
“Each sand table allows for that level of wildland fire management to put brains to the incident and really work through how they would handle the fire,” Goss said. “They are able to predict the actions they would take at their level to help manage the incident.”
While fire season is essentially year round, activity could pick up in June or July Mark Regan, Assistant Fire Marshall from the North Lake Tahoe Fire Department said.
“Lately our fire season has been year round,” Regan said. “While we have been getting some snow and other moisture, the fuels (vegetation) are still dry. Just because we’ve gotten moisture doesn’t mean that there will be no wildland fires.”
The shorter bursts of moisture Douglas County has received have done enough to green up grasses and other vegetation in the area.
However, without additional storms, or longer storms, that green will turn brown quickly creating more fuel for potential fires.
“The amount of dead vegetation and stressed vegetation only increases the odds of a wildland start,” Regan said. “We have to remind citizens that we have to work together to get prepared for fire season. We may be here training, but we need their help, too.”
Both Regan and Goss encourage residents to start removing excess vegetation from around their home to create a larger defensible space in case of a wildland fire.
Defensible space allows a greater area for firefighters to work and help protect threatened structures.
Thoroughly drowning campfires and using caution while operating gas or electric outdoor equipment can also help eliminate the potential for a wildland fire.
“All of us here have chosen to be a part of SFWC,” Goss said. “This is like a second job and we want to be sure we’re ready for fire season.”