Firefighters get hands-on experience at nation's only bulldozer training academy with live fire

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY (KABC) -- During wildfires, we often seen bulldozers clearing brush, building fire breaks and more. It's difficult and important work. There is just one Dozer Training Academy in the entire nation that works with live fire, and it's in San Bernardino County.

Mastering the machinery isn't easy. In fact, there's a lot of risk associated with operating bull dozers on the front lines of a fast moving fire, where the natural environment can be dangerous. That's why the San Bernardino Fire Protection District is putting operators, old and new, through Dozer Academy. In the training, firefighters are working with live fire.

"There's no way to duplicate live fire without that, in a real setting with real terrain, wind, all the things that can actually change," said Ted Mohr, dozer operator, San Bernardino County Fire Department.

In some cases, a dozer is able to do things hand crews can't, like quickly building bigger lines surrounding a fire to help contain its spread.

"What we're able to do generally is clear an area of vegetation so that you've taken away the fuels, so when the fire comes, it doesn't have anything left to burn," said Mohr.

Crews from San Bernardino County, L.A. city, Orange County, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense all were present at the academy. For those with experience, it's just good to be out there after a few months off. For those who are new... it's eye opening.

"It was amazing to see what these guys and gals do, have so much respect for what they do, it's not as easy as they make it look," said Heather McRae, Dozer Academy incident commander.

"This kind of gets everybody ready to go, you can see how the fuels are burning, how the terrain is going, and gives you a chance to fine tune your skills right before fire season does take off," said Mohr.

MORE | Historic rise in wildfires challenges California to adapt
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The story of fire in California is two-fold -- drought and disagreements over forest management and millions of people living in the urban-wildland interface.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story state this was the only Dozer Training Academy - it is the only one that works with live fire.
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