The State Worker

Cal Fire opens Ione academy for training exercise, gives Bee a tour of facility

The sign at the entrance to Cal Fire’s gated facility on Highway 104 entering Ione, Calif.
The sign at the entrance to Cal Fire’s gated facility on Highway 104 entering Ione, Calif. jortiz@sacbee.com

Come for the training, stay for the tour.

After putting off Sacramento Bee requests to see Cal Fire’s Ione Academy for nearly a month, the department granted an impromptu tour Saturday when a reporter (your humble blogger) showed up for an open-to-media training session on the facility’s grounds.

The Saturday training event blended 160 Guard officers and 40 Cal Fire officers for fire aviation exercises using helicopters to collect water in 2,000-gallon buckets and then drop it with pin-point accuracy over mock hotspots. (To avoid wasting water, the crews collected water from Pardee Reservior and then dumped where it would quickly run back into the lake.)

The two departments have fought fires together for nearly 40 years and annually to renew their cooperative flight training just ahead of the state’s fire season.

After the reporter viewed some of the joint training and talked with several Guardsmen, a Cal Fire employee said that department spokesman Daniel Berlant was on his way to the facility to speak with the reporter.

Once Berlant arrived, he gave the reporter an extensive tour of the Ione Academy.

The 420-acre facility has been at the center of a string of negative stories about former academy employees who drank on the job at local bars, cheated on promotional interviews, used their state-issued call phones to display pornography in the workplace, sexually harass women and, in once instance, used a state vehicle to hook up with prostitutes.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott told lawmakers last week that he is “repulsed and embarrassed” by the scandalous events disclosed in a series of Sacramento Bee reports. He has not yet made himself available to The Bee for an interview.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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