11/10/2012 4:00:00 PM Mass Fire Drill: Multi-agency drill preps for large, problem fire
Wednesdayâ€™s fire drill included a scenario where the water system to the fire hydrants failed, forcing firefighters to form a mechanized bucket brigade.
Yavapai County Mutual Aid Interoperability Exercise that took place at the Steve Coury Ford and Lincoln dealership on Wednesday was a chance for county fire departments to practice working together on a large structure fire.
CAMP VERDE - To passersby on State Route 260 on Wednesday morning, it may have looked like Steve Coury Ford and Lincoln had been the target of a terrorist attack.
Or perhaps they had expanded their offerings to include a full line of fire trucks, water trucks and, ambulances.
But it was neither.
Instead it was the largest coordinated fire drill in the county's history, involving departments from both sides of Mingus Mountain. They were practicing a scenario none want to see, but all realize could very well happen.
The Yavapai County Mutual Aid Interoperability Exercise, as it was called, was an effort to learn what problems might exist if resources were called from all corners of the county to fight a fire at a major commercial building.
But the drill didn't stop there. The scenario called for firefighters to fight the blaze without the benefit of working fire hydrants.
"It wasn't that much different from what occurred on Whiskey Row earlier this year, only in this instance the scenario included a failed water system. All water for the fire had to be brought in from offsite," said Robert Church, assistant information officer for the Verde Valley Fire District.
Put another way, is was a bucket brigade exercise on steroids.
The drill began with a call from the on scene incident commander to the Western Yavapai County Immediate Response Rural Task Force, requesting additional water tenders and pump trucks.
By 8:45 units from the western Yavapai departments arrived on scene. At the same time additional units are assigned to backfill Camp Verde Fire District's Station 31 and Verde Valley Fire District's Station 1, because all their units had been called to the scene.
Within 10 minutes a water relay was established that put a continuous flow of 750 gallons of water a minute on the "fire."
At 9:40, one of the pump trucks used to pump the continuous flow broke down (part of the scenario) and a replacement was called in. The existing pump trucks had to keep up the continuous flow while a replacement was spliced in.
For the next hour and 15 minutes the bucket line did its thing before the incident commander ordered all units to roll up hoses and return to Station 31 for a "hot wash and lunch."
"It was a test of communications, resource management and coordination at the scene. It involves most of the elements we would need to prepare for at a large fire, or one in the many rural parts of the county were we don't have a water system or hydrants to begin with," said Church.
The drill involved a dozen units and dozens of firefighters from Camp Verde, Sedona, Verde Valley Fire District, Montezuma-Rimrock, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Jerome, Central Yavapai, Chino Valley, Mayer and Prescott.
"One of our biggest challenges is communications," said Camp Verde Fire Marshal Kristi Gagnon. "In the real world we operate on two different frequencies.
"So one of the first things we had to do was get everyone on the same channel. Then it was a matter of assigning leadership at the scene, monitoring the resources, addressing safety concerns, traffic control and working with the media."
The results of the drill, said Gagnon, will not be known for a week or so, after the evaluators assess what went right, what went wrong and how gaps in the system are filled, so when the big one does happen, everyone will be on the same frequency.