The Santa Barbara City Fire Department was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the California Fire Foundation and Pacific Gas and Electric.
The money will be used to purchase 42 new firefighting backpacks.
The new wildland fire equipment was supplied by Mystery Ranch Co. and designed for firefighters who respond to vegetation fires. The equipment offers more room for firefighting tools and other equipment needed while on the frontlines.
“Sometimes our guys are out there for more than 12 hours at a time, so this will allow us to take extra clothing, food, other layers or tools,” Fire Engineer Kevin Corbett told the News-Press.
The backpacks are equipped with what is known as a Yoke System, which means they are adjustable and designed to ride comfortably on the wearer and minimize back injuries.
Crews are known to carry heavy loads up and down hills in the backcountry, as well as hose line and other gear. The standard wildlife gear can weigh a minimum of 45 pounds.
Add in a hose pack, and crews are carrying another 20 to 30 pounds, Engineer Corbett told the News-Press.
“Sometimes we have guys who carry more than one hose line at a time,” he added.
“If you just look at some of the hills around here … you never know what you’re going to get into,” he said. “You’re trying to climb the hills through scratched, and sometimes burned, vegetation. Then if it gets wet, the mud and water can make it even tougher.”
While the department has not seen a trend of back injuries among its personnel, these types of injuries are known to be very common throughout the fire service, Engineer Corbett said.
“The fact that we are using the most advanced, state-of-the-art equipment means that the department is that much more prepared to serve the citizens of Santa Barbara and the state of California,” he explained.
The new backpacks have been in use for the past several months, and were included in the Hollister Ranch fire in May and the vegetation fire that broke out last month near Fairview Avenue and Highway 101 in Goleta.
“The early reviews show that our guys really love them,” Engineer Corbett said.
Local fire crews conduct wildlife firefighting operations both locally and throughout the state. Specialized firefighting apparatus for responding to vegetation fires can be found in four of the department’s eight stations.