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Local firefighters sent to help battle California wildfires come back more experienced

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 file photo, a firefighter battles the Woolsey Fire burning a home in Malibu, Calif. Fire officials announced Wednesday evening, Nov. 21, that the Woolsey Fire is 100 percent contained. The wind-whipped blaze erupted on Nov. 8 and spread destruction from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, west of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 file photo, a firefighter battles the Woolsey Fire burning a home in Malibu, Calif. Fire officials announced Wednesday evening, Nov. 21, that the Woolsey Fire is 100 percent contained. The wind-whipped blaze erupted on Nov. 8 and spread destruction from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, west of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File) AP

The experience four Gig Harbor firefighters gained from helping battle California’s forest fires will pay off locally, officials said.

“When we send them back out they will have invaluable experience that they would not otherwise be able to get,” said Fire Prevention Division Chief Eric Waters. “That will improve their safety and efficiency when they’re out on the fire line.”

The four were sent Nov. 10 to combat the Woolsey fire in Ventura and Camarillo counties. They were among 20 Washington firefighters sent to California in response to a request by the governor’s office.

The Gig Harbor firefighters returned Nov. 17 after California officials were able to get more local resources on the scene and no longer needed outside help, Waters said.

The Woolsey fire broke out Nov. 8 and covered nearly 97,000 acres. It destroyed about 1,500 structures and killed three people, according to The Los Angeles Times. Cause of the fire still under investigation.

Mike Dumas was one of the four Gig Harbor firefighters sent to California.

The deployment was valuable, he said, because he learned how to work productively in a large system that included law enforcement departments and other firefighting units.

“They have different planning and logistics and just the process of having to work through that system in order to get things done,” he said.

Fires in the Gig Harbor area seldom span more than miles, let alone hundreds of miles, Waters said. Working in California under a large command structure meant his firefighters had to learn and adapt quickly and efficiently, he said.

Typically firefighters with varying levels of experience are sent to incidents like the California forest fires to maximize both safety and learning, Waters said.

“We look at who we are sending and what their qualification is and we try to pair that up so we have a balance,” he said “Experience is very important when we are working to maintain everyone’s safety.”

The four firefighters picked to go to California had at least some experience in dealing with large blazes because, in dealing with such a major incident, their bosses wanted to make sure the job was done correctly, Waters said.

Sharing resources across regions, counties and states is normal for fire departments, he said. In the past 10 years, Gig Harbor has sent personnel to California four times, including twice this year.

“We had enough resources at home that we could ensure our coverage at home wasn’t diminished by sending these other personnel,” he said.

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