SAN ANTONIO — Fire instructors from a national organization trained the San Antonio Fire Department and taught them how to safely tackle wildfires that cross into urban areas.
The International Association of Firefighters brought 11 instructors to San Antonio for the training. It was held in the Roseheart neighborhood located north of San Antonio. The area was a fitting area for crews to learn because the homes are surrounded by vegetation.
"We have a wildland program. We've been proactive with this neighborhood here. We've been coming out and clearing out vegetation, working on educating the community out here," said Charles Hood, SAFD fire chief.
The Roseheart homeowners association provided more than a dozen homes for the training. Instructors laid out different distractions for each home like kids who refused to leave or a homeowner who tried to convince crews to save his home. While the goal is to save lives, instructors say firefighters need to assess ways to stop the fire from causing further damage and potentially, killing more people.
"We're going from structural firefighting to where we have to fight a structure and the exposures and the potential of losing a whole block," said Hood. "In urban interface fire, it's probably a lot more challenging in the big picture than most structure fires that we fight on a daily basis."
"Just some of the stuff that we're teaching them is to not stay so focused on one structure but to move on and give everything else -- don't bog all your resources in one area," explained J.P. Adams, instructor and Lewiston Fire Department firefighter. "We show them tactics how to spread out and be successful in this."
Hood said the training was timely in light of the deadly wildfires in California.
"I think everyone has seen the massive fires that were fought in Northern California over the last month. The devastation, the lives lost. We have some of the same dynamics in San Antonio as far as the fuel load, as far as the topography, as the continued build out into wildland spaces. So it's critical that our fire department understand how to fight fires such as this," said Hood.
Todd Derum, one of the instructors and division chief Type 1 incident with CAL FIRE, shared his first-hand experience with wildfire and underscored the importance of the training.
"In my experience, the last 5 years have been more devastating than ever before with firefighter fatalities: Cory Iverson one of our engineers who lost his life during the Thomas Fire," said Derum. "Truly, the fires are outpacing the fire departments, the law enforcement. It's not just that the fire is coming from the woods or going into the woods in other communities. They're expanding across neighborhoods and commercial districts."
IAFF instructors are teaching wildland suppressions tactics to firefighters across the country. After they complete all of the training, they plan to compile a list of best practices and share the lessons with fire departments.