Sheriff’s Dept. Gets Ready For Peak Fire Season

July 5, 2012 | 5:44pm

During an emergency such as a wildfire, it is critical for law enforcement and fire commanders to work together.

“2007 was the first time we embedded the Sheriff’s office with our fire operations and it was very successful,” said CAL FIRE Capt. Mike Mohler as he addressed a class of sheriff’s supervisors last week.

On the brink of peak fire season, about 230 San Diego County sheriff’s supervisors and support staff are training to make sure they are prepared for another wildfire. The formal training includes a review of the “Incident Command System” used by fire and law enforcement to manage emergencies and communications, and a review of personal preparedness, said Assistant Sheriff Patty Duke.

“We learned so much from the previous fire season and we need to share the lessons learned with the folks who will be leading the mission. This is our fourth year offering this training and we consider it an investment upfront ,” said Duke. “We have a lot of rotation among our staff. We want to ensure they have the proper training to tackle the demands of wildfires in our communities."

In a wildfire, sheriff’s command staff coordinates with fire commanders to map the predicted path of a fire and plan a community evacuation when necessary. Yet, the Sheriff and fire agencies each have a separate “operations center,” where in-the-field decisions and plans of attack are made, so it is important for the two centers to coordinate and share information.

 At the refresher training, sheriff’s supervisors were reminded that evacuations are always voluntary, not mandatory. In the case where someone cannot be convinced to evacuate for his or her own safety, deputies are asked to collect identifying information from the family such as how many people are in the home and their ages, sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Rothlein told the class.

Once the fire threat has passed, deputies can allow some workers to re-enter an area before residents are allowed back in, he said. Generally, those who need access are utility and water employees, veterinarians and farmers who need to feed and water their animals.

Supervisors were reminded to maintain logs of the people who re-enter fire areas and to instruct them that they are entering at their own risk due to potential downed utility lines and other hazards.

Lifting evacuations in a county area is a decision made by top County officials including the sheriff, CAL FIRE chief, the Chief Administrative Officer and the Office of Emergency Services director. Even after an order is issued, deputies still check identification to make sure the people entering a fire area live in the community. This measure restricts access to “looky-loos” and looters, Rothlein said.

Sheriff’s supervisors also discussed what the operations center can do to support deputies in the field, including requesting mutual aid.

“We continue to learn from each event and San Diego County has a great number of resources, and classes like this help us remember what resources are available outside our agencies so that we can work more effectively and efficiently together for public safety,” said attendee, Sgt. Daniel Vengler.

Personal preparedness was also a big topic for the sheriff’s supervisors. In a local emergency like a wildfire evacuation, a law enforcement or fire official could be personally affected. At the same time a deputy could be asked to help dozens or even hundreds of strangers evacuate, he or she might get a phone call from a panicked family member who is being evacuated. Rothlein urged supervisors to make sure deputies were prepared at home.

“It’s important to make sure your family is taken care of, and you have a plan in place, so when you’re at work, you can focus on helping other people’s families,” Vengler said.

Rothlein also reminded deputies to be prepared to work extended shifts where they might not be able to run home to change their clothes or eat. He suggested deputies have a work/car emergency kit that includes a second set of clothing, extra medications, water and food.

Every year county residents are also reminded to complete or review family disaster plans which include having a home emergency kit that could be grabbed quickly and taken in the event of an evacuation.

To complete a family disaster plan, visit, www.SDCountyEmergency.com, click on ReadySanDiego and the Family tab. Templates are available in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese.