Six Rivers fire crew trains at Samoa Drag strip

Emergency vehicle course simulates real life conditions

  • A U.S. Forest Service employee gets a simulation of driving on a narrow country road while a skateboarder zips toward him during training at the Samoa Dragstrip on Thursday morning. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

  • A U.S. Forest Service employee gets a simulation of driving in an emergency situation during training at the Samoa Dragstrip on Thursday morning. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

  • A U.S. Forest Service employee gets a simulation of driving in traffic in an emergency situation during training at the Samoa Dragstrip on Thursday morning. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

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The Samoa Dragstrip area was transformed this morning into an emergency vehicle training course for Six Rivers National Forest fire management employees.

Tom Stokesberry, Engine 341 captain, said the course was a follow up to classroom discussions about emergency vehicle operation.

“We provide our students the opportunity to get behind the wheel and run code three, red lights and sirens, so when they do get into the real world and we’re responding to an incident, they have those memories and ‘slides’ in their heads of how that works,” he said.

The course includes a simulated construction zone, highway, country road, crosswalk, stoplight, an uncontrolled four-way intersection with vehicles coming through it, and “a couple individuals out there may be throwing a ball across the road,” Stokesberry said.

A U.S. Forest Service employee gets a simulation of driving in an emergency situation during training at the Samoa Dragstrip on Thursday morning. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

Participants drove different vehicles through the course including pick-up trucks, fire engines and hotshot crew buggies.

“This is a pass/fail course,” Stokesberry said.

“If you do not qualify, or pass the course or the written test, you have to take the course completely over again … so we do train pretty hard on this,” he added.

Skyler Nilsen, who has been with Six Rivers for five years, ran the course for the first time Thursday morning and called the experience “really interesting.”

“They do a good job of catching you off guard,” he said. “They’re really doing an accurate simulation of construction zones and the type of stuff you see around Humboldt County when you’re driving, much less responding to an incident trying to get there quickly.”

If Nilsen passes, Thursday’s training marks the final endorsement he needs to be qualified to drive a type three fire engine. He said one of the most surprising parts of the course was when a “ball came flying out of the bushes” on a narrow part of the course.

“I had no idea it was going to happen,” he said. “It caught me off guard but it’s a good thing to be thinking about.”

He was appreciative of the simulation, noting that incident response can create situations where he has to operate under increased adrenaline levels.

“This training helps us get used to that and kind of be able to take a deep breath and tone out the sirens and just concentrate on driving and not get so worked up that you’re responding to an incident,” he said. “The more you train on something, the more comfortable you are with it, and the more likely you are to make the correct decision. Instead of reacting to it, you can kind of already know what you’re going to do.”

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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