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Dozer operators prepare for upcoming fire season

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Vandenberg’s wildland fire dozer team led by Mr. Ray Escobedo, from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, drives a fire dozer to the top of a ridge at Oak Mountain to make fire breaks to help firefighters in the event of a wildfire Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Vandenberg’s wildland fire dozer team is the only fire dozer unit in the Air Force.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Vandenberg’s wildland fire dozer team led by Mr. Ray Escobedo, from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, drives a fire dozer to the top of a ridge at Oak Mountain to make fire breaks to help firefighters in the event of a wildfire Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Vandenberg’s wildland fire dozer team is the only fire dozer unit in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Former Vandenberg Hot Shot Charlie Martinez, from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, watches as a member of the Vandenberg wildland fire dozer team makes a fire break here Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Vandenberg is the only installation in the Air Force with a fire dozer team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Former Vandenberg Hot Shot Charlie Martinez, from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, watches as a member of the Vandenberg wildland fire dozer team makes a fire break here Tuesday, May 4, 2010. Vandenberg is the only installation in the Air Force with a fire dozer team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Members from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, including the horizontal construction flight and the Vandenberg wildland fire dozer team are currently attending the Wildland Fire Dozer Academy training here April 26 to May 7. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Members from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, including the horizontal construction flight and the Vandenberg wildland fire dozer team are currently attending the Wildland Fire Dozer Academy training here April 26 to May 7. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Photographs taken from the Vandenberg Wildland Fire Dozer Academy training here Tuesday, May 4, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Photographs taken from the Vandenberg Wildland Fire Dozer Academy training here Tuesday, May 4, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Twelve members of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron horizontal construction flight here are currently attending the Wildland Fire Dozer Academy training on base April 26 to May 7.

The training is an annual, two week, 84-hour wildfire certifying program, which is required for all 30th CES fire dozer operators.

"Fighting a wildfire is not like a typical house fire you would see or hear about on a daily basis," said Staff Sgt. Pelagio Perez, a 30th CES heavy vehicle operator. "With wildland fires, we have to deal with things like weather, types of fuels and the terrain."

The training typically occurs as fire season nears. Vandenberg firefighters are forecasting the beginning of the fire season will start when the accumulation is less than two inches of monthly precipitation on the Central Coast.

Complying with a California initiative in 1998, Vandenberg adopted the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Red Card qualification system, which requires each member to be fully qualified to hold a desired position at the scene of a wildfire. For fire dozer personnel, the Wildland Fire Dozer Academy is one of the many requirements they must complete before achieving Red Card status.

"We also have to learn all of the items included in the 10 Standard Fire Orders and know how to respond to 18 different watch-out wildfire scenarios," Sergeant Perez said. "The training incorporates a lot of fitness as well. We do a lot of hiking up and down the surrounding hills and mountains."

During the first week of the academy, the topics the fire dozer operators study include fire safety, what fuels a fire, topography, air operations, rate of spread, line construction and how to effectively communicate using radios.

"It is important we all know what to do when wildfires occur like the fire we had at Vandenberg in 2009," Sergeant Perez said. "If these guys weren't quick and fully trained, who knows what would've happened to this base."

Sergeant Perez was referring to the Pine Canyon Fire that had burned through more than 600 acres at Vandenberg last year. Vandenberg's wildland fire dozer team sent six dozers to the scene of the fire. The dozers then dug through the earth, removing the vegetation that was fuelling the fire, to create a perimeter around the blaze. The fire dozer team successfully contained the spread of the fire, and their actions helped the Vandenberg firefighters extinguish the fire within 24 hours.

"With the training they receive through the academy, I feel very confident in the abilities of the individuals we put out on wildfires," said Mr. Doran Warner, a 30th CES horizontal construction manager. "In addition to the training the dozer operators receive during these two weeks of training, the operators attend another six classes administered by the Vandenberg Fire Department."

The fire dozer operators are also responsible for supporting all launches from Vandenberg by positioning fire dozers at appropriate staging areas; fuels management (prescribed burns and fire breaks); wildland fire suppression; mutual aid support; and they also provide training to other Air Force and outside agencies.

"This unit is second to none and our training exceeds the state's requirements," said Mr. Warner. "We are well known in our area of responsibility, from San Luis Obispo County to San Diego County, and we are often requested by outside agencies because of our expertise."