USA AGOURA HILLS >> Preparing to enter the fields of battle, U.S. veterans gathered Saturday outside a Paramount Ranch home to Hollywood gunslingers. Only instead of spin-cocking their Winchesters, they drew firehoses as they trained to fight wildfires across the West.
I think its an awesome opportunity, said John Patrick, a 38-year-old former Marine from Roseville, who was part of the first U.S. invasion force in Iraq in 2003. Its an opportunity to give back to the community.
It cant be hotter than the sands of Iraq.
He was one of around 50 military veterans and first responders from across California to engage in wildland firefighter training this weekend at the historic Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills.
The four-day event, conducted by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, trains veterans to fight rugged brush fires.
The veterans were recruited through Team Rubicon, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that unites them into rapid emergency response teams.
Each vet was trained in wildland fire suppression tactics, from communications to fireline construction, from using hand tools to pumping water into firehouses from local streams.
Their training ends today along the valley oak savannah of Paramount Ranch, the film location for Hollywood productions from Bob Hopes Caught in the Draft to The Cisco Kid to the latest HBO hit, Westworld.
It was the first time the National Park Service helped host and instruct the veterans.
Building a highly skilled team of first responders is critical to preserving these places for future generations, said David Szymanski, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The veterans skills were especially prized among federal firefighting crews. So far, about 500 veterans have been trained to fight fires since the BLM teamed up with Team Rubicon two years ago.
Its great. It just makes sense, said BLM Veterans Program Manager Chuck Russell, who oversees training in four western states, including California. Veterans come with the experience theyve given serving their country their work ethic, leadership qualities and determination that they can use to fight fires.
On Saturday, the veterans left their camp upstream of Medea Creek to gather among the oaks and willows to employ gas-powered water pumps to send water through fire hoses. Such training is needed to join federal, state and local fire crews.
Our motto is, Kick ass and get (stuff) done, said former Navy Corpsman Patrick Mishler, a team leader for Team Rubicon, which has recruited 50,000 veteran volunteers across the nation, which responded to 80 disasters last year worldwide. Disasters are our business, but veterans are our passion.
Among them was John Ward, a 35-year-old Army combat veteran from Simi Valley who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Growing up in Southern California, you grow up with fires around you and not being able to do anything about them, said Ward, who now works as a computer tech. This offers me a chance to be able to assist.
And among them was Kassandra Strangio, 22, of Los Altos, who fought wildfires raging last year across North Carolina.
I love this kind of stuff, said Strangio, now working on a forestry degree in wildfire management, and among the mostly men dressed in yellow turnout gear. I like being on a hand crew. I sleep really well at night. Its hard work. Its really satisfying.