‘Train like you fight’; Placer public responders hold emergency preparedness training

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. – With fire season officially here and the threat of a wildfire, or another disaster looming in the background, public service agencies gathered at Palisades Tahoe on Wednesday, July 19, to participate in a Tahoe Basin Critical Incident and Fire Preparedness training exercise. 

Members from Placer County Sheriff’s Office, CAL FIRE, and Placer County Office of Emergency Services were joined by Truckee Police Department, Truckee Fire Protection District, California Highway Patrol, North Lake Tahoe Protection District, Washoe County, Liberty Utilities and several other local entities to practice response to several scenarios that could hit the Tahoe Basin. 

“It’s so important to have training like this and that we as the Board of Supervisors, that we are also helping fund it and making sure this event happens,” said Cindy Gustafson, Placer County District 5 Supervisor to the trainees. She added that in her 40 years in the Basin has seen every kind of emergency and knows firsthand how impactful training like this can be. 

Multiple agencies gathered to run through emergency scenarios.
Laney Griffo / Sierra Sun

The attendees were split into groups and given four different scenarios. 

“Several of them are fire related and one that is critical incident related,” said Angela Musallam, Public Information Officer, Placer County Sheriff’s Office. “The goal of today is to ensure that fire and law enforcement agencies are working in unison together and unified command during these critical incidents.”

The simulated incidents included the Ward Creek Fire, the North Tahoe State Park in Kings Creek which involved evacuation of residents and businesses and the Palisades Tahoe Fire behind Everline Resort, which was purposefully challenging because of the limited evacuation routes. The critical incident was a Palisades Tahoe civil unrest incident. 

“We operate in a unified command mentality all the time, whether a fire is one-acre or 10,000 acres so, this is really about knocking the cobwebs out and formalizing the simulated training,” said CAL FIRE Chief Brian Estes. “So when we look at that, we’re looking at ‘what are our target hazards, what are the big things we’re really worried about’ and really that’s wildland fires, the evacuations that come from wildland fires so that’s what we’re centering on.” 

“We wanted to make sure there was a blend of law enforcement driven scenarios and fire driven scenarios and then especially up here in the Basin, we wanted a variety of scenarios that tested the capabilities of where it occurred in Lake Tahoe and what would need to be the evacuation routes,” added Placer County Sheriff Wayne Woo. 

Like in an actual emergency, the Mobile Command Unit was set up on site. Police and fire dispatchers were inside feeding information to the people on the ground. Depending on how well the groups were handling a scenario, additional obstacles would be thrown at the responders, such as a car accident in an evacuation route or injuries at the civil unrest. 

Laney Griffo / Sierra Sun

Leaders would watch and observe but let the scenarios play out without stepping in and helping. Following the scenarios, a debrief was held during which pointers and corrections were made. 

“[In the debrief], we’re identifying the essential functions of the incidents commanders, being in unified command with different agencies, each agency has different responsibilities so we want to make sure if the federal counterparts are here with us, we’re talking about what we’re going to do on their force and make sure they have a clear lane and what the state does and what the local government does,” said Nolan Hale, CAL FIRE Battalion Chief.

Estes said because of Placer County Board of Supervisors commitment to emergency preparedness, the county is in a good position to respond for emergencies.

“You look at an event like today, the County supports this. It’s not cheap to put this many public responders out here for a day but I believe in it. Train like you fight,” said Estes. 

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