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Agencies practice wildland fire response

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The Plumas County Office of Emergency Services, the Plumas National Forest and the Meadow Valley Fire Department lead a host of local fire departments and other agencies during a wildland fire training exercise. Photos submitted
Debra Moore
Staff Writer
6/20/2014

Since it’s not a question of if, but when a fire will break out near a Plumas County community, local officials organized the largest drill ever held in the area.

“It was the first full-scale exercise in 25 years held in Plumas County,” said Jerry Sipe, the county’s director of the office of emergency services.

Sipe’s office, along with the Plumas National Forest and the Meadow Valley Volunteer Fire Department, coordinated the June 1 event that included a host of agencies.


Thirteen of the county’s 25 fire departments, from as far as Sierra Valley and Lake Almanor, converged in Meadow Valley, where a mock fire threatened the community.

As the Forest Service, Cal Fire and the local departments battled the blaze and provided structure protection, search and rescue personnel went from door to door alerting residents.

Meanwhile, others assembled at the fairgrounds, which served as an evacuation center for people and animals.

Everyone who would have a part to play in a real fire assumed that role for the mock drill.
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Steve Millert, left, of the Forest Service, reviews a drill map with Jerry Sipe, the county’s director of the office of emergency services.

“This exercise was a great example of local, state and federal emergency services resources working together on behalf of our communities,” said Steve Millert, fire management officer for the Plumas. “Preparing and engaging like this really helps us get ahead of the curve. We have all the makings of a long and busy fire season, taking into account the lack of moisture in our vegetation and current drought conditions.”

“I thought it was great,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said of the event. She was a new supervisor five years ago, when a fire broke out near Meadow Valley and she recalls that “I didn’t know what to do.”
After the June 1 event she feels better prepared.

What is a supervisor’s role in the event of a fire?

“I would go to the command center and see what resources are needed and what I could do as supervisor to facilitate that,” she said. “Then I would check on shelters and communications.”

Communication was one of the stated goals of the exercise:

“The objectives of this training exercise are to test and improve the participating agencies notification, response, coordination and communication systems used during an incident in addition to expanding participants’ knowledge and use of the incident command system.”

And it turned out that communication proved to be an area that needs improvement.

“Thirty-eight percent of the residents of Meadow Valley don’t have a landline phone,” said Sipe. “Countywide approximately 33 to 35 percent of the residents don’t have a landline.”

That’s critical to the county’s emergency notification system, CodeRed.

Unless cellphones are registered with the CodeRed system, residents won’t receive emergency warnings.

“It was a great lesson learned,” Sipe said, and plans are underway to alert residents of the need to register their phones.

Registration can be accomplished by visiting the sheriff’s department or by going to countyofplumas.com and following the CodeRed link on the homepage.

The other communication-related problem centered on the ability of the various agencies to converse due to spotty cell phone and Internet availability in many areas of the county.

While the exercise uncovered weak links in communications, it served to strengthen agency interaction.

“While we are addressing some radio communications challenges; we have come a long way working through how we dispatch local resources and share information and resources among ourselves,” said Millert. “The biggest impact I see really is that we are creating a common vision for the future.”

“It was a good drill,” Quincy Fire Chief Robbie Cassou said. “It got multiple agencies together that deal with wildland fire in an urban interface.”

“The real value in the exercise was the relationships that were formed,” Sipe said.

He hopes that the drill, which took six months to coordinate, can be duplicated in the northern part of the county in conjunction with the Lassen National Forest.

Sipe complimented all of the agencies involved and the “widespread community effort.”

Meadow Valley residents will have an opportunity to interact with those who conducted the drill this Thursday, June 19 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Meadow Valley Church.


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