Rancho Santa Fe Fire’s training facility helps firefighters stay sharp

A crew of probational Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District (RSFFPD) firefighters was hard at work Jan. 17 preparing to be better first responders. The district is fortunate to have its own training facility at Station 2 in 4S Ranch where firefighters can hone their skills in a safe but realistic environment.

It’s so realistic, in fact, that RSF Fire Board Director Tucker Stine said he frequently gets calls from neighbors concerned that the fire station is on fire. Stine, of course, assures people that the smoke they see is under control but he’d like more people to be aware about the excellent training that firefighters are going through on a regular basis at the facility.

On Jan. 17, the probie firefighters drilled over and over again at the five-story, 3,000-foot training tower. They practiced arriving to the scene, rolling out the hose and approaching the tower, communicating with each other. They paused before entering the tower, checking the door for heat and checking each other.

Fires were set for the firefighters to find in different locations within the training tower — be it in the “kitchen,” “living room” or “bedroom.” The firefighters entered the building after a blast from the hose, closing the door behind them.

Inside the tower, a confidence course maze on the third floor allows firefighters to practice self-rescue if they are ever trapped by debris, and the roof is also used to practice repelling from high angles for rescues.

All of the firefighters who participated in the training will be off-probation in January 2018 — as Battalion Chief of Training Dave McQuead said, that probational year will go by in a hurry.

“They did a fantastic job,” McQuead said, who observed the crews’ work on the sunny, smoky day.

The five-story tower is just one part of the large training space at Station 2.

Smashed-up vehicles are delivered to the facility to allow firefighters to practice cutting and dismantling for rescue in real-life traffic accidents. A roof prop helps them practice fighting fires on both slanted and flat roofs.

They practice chopping and cutting holes in roofs, use splash walls to practice with the hose, and can even train crawling through confined spaces in a prop made of three large concrete vaults and a maze of connecting pipes.

“Firefighters are training every single shift,” said Julie Taber, public information officer.

If they’re not outside at the facility, they can also be found training online or in their training classroom on site.

The training facility is also used to train civilians who are interested in becoming members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), as well as the regional Palomar College Fire Academy. Neighboring fire department agencies such as San Diego Fire, Del Mar Fire, Carlsbad Fire, Vista Fire, Encinitas Fire and Solana Beach Fire also use the facility.

As Taber said, that inter-agency training builds strong working relationships when incidents happen that affect all communities — such as the swarm of wildfires that erupted in May 2014, one nearby the 4S Ranch station. The crews need to be used to working together.

A few weeks ago, RSF Fire played host to crews across the county as they participated in a six-day RIC (Rapid Intervention Crews) training, in which a team of three firefighters is trained to rescue downed, injured or trapped firefighters.

“The RSFFPD strives to provide the best service possible to our community,” Taber said. “We are always working to ensure that our firefighters are well educated and trained with the tools and skills needed to serve our community in any emergency.”

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