Whenever a wildfire breaks out in Los Angeles County, our Department moves quickly into overdrive to keep it from growing. Fire moves 16 times faster uphill, so the name of the game is knockdown and containment. Wildfire attack plays out on the ground and in the air, as water-dropping helicopters whirl to the scene, and engine companies and camp crews race into the hillsides.
Our Department’s team of Fire Suppression Aids, or “FSA’s,” plays a pivotal role in our ability to keep a wildfire from spreading. Using everything from shovels to Pulaskis to chainsaws and an assortment of other tools, FSA’s provide direct ground attack on a fire. As a fire moves, they are also on the move as they are routed to the fireground in camp crew vehicles or by air attack helicopters.
Recently, Fire Fighter Specialist Kelly Abadie, our Department’s Recruitment Unit leader, spent time with over 60 of our FSA’s to discuss the upcoming Fire Fighter Trainee examination. She was surprised to find out how well prepared for the examination process these personnel already were.
“I found out that over 80 of our FSA’s already possess a valid CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) card, and 97 percent of them have an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license.” says Abadie. “Some of them are also paramedics.”
Abadie explained that FSA’s see the wildland side of our operations, so it is important for them to have a broader overview of the Department’s operations, including structural firefighting and fire station operations, to help them prepare for the exam. When FSA’s are hired as Fire Fighter Trainees and placed into the fire station environment, they bring a wealth of wildland firefighting resources with them. Many of them have been waiting for four to six years to apply for the Fire Fighter Trainee position.
“One of my responsibilities is to serve as a mentor to candidates who are interested in becoming firefighters, assisting them and giving them advice on CPAT, hands-on experience in the fire stations, and guidance about the testing process,” says Abadie. “Our FSA’s also benefit from this mentoring, and they make excellent firefighter candidates because they are already employees and possess knowledge of our Department. They bring a lot of skills to the table.”
FSA’s do a lot of the rugged work for our Department, working an average of 28 out of 30 days per month, clearing firebreaks, trails and motorways by cutting back brush or trees with chainsaws and handtools. They also assist engine companies in laying hose lines during wildland fires, and patrol areas of controlled fire to discover and extinguish any remaining burning material. FSA’s also provide manual labor in other types of emergencies, such as filling and placing sandbags, digging canals, and operating dump trucks to remove mud and debris during heavy rains or storms.
“During my visit, I stressed the importance of keeping up their certifications,” adds Abadie, who joined our Department in 2000 and serve for two years as an FSA before being accepted into the Fire Academy as a member of Recruit Class 109. “They will still have to test high enough and compete.”
Abadie recalled her own positive experiences while working in the camps and shared that no women are currently working as FSA’s.
“I am hoping that some of our young women in our Fire Explorer Program will become interested in the FSA position. It’s an excellent way to join our team,” she says.