Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fire & Safety

Climate change is here in the name of a drought and heat, which has provided the tools for extreme fires. In California, fires have already cost many lives, injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars so far. The final tally is still to be determined. So far, in California six civilians and two firefighters have died, and many were injured. In the Lake County alone, 1,958 structures were lost, 93 damaged and 2,953 structures threatened, displacing almost 3,000 people without homes, and the fire season is not even over. Also, wildland fires are now worldwide so climate change does not only involve us, here in the U.S., but its impacting people worldwide, especially New Zealand, Spain, Indonesia and Singapore so far. We, in the U.S., have the most problem facing firefighters in what we call wild land-urban interface, which is homes built in or very close to the forests. At this time there are about 10 million homes built in fire-prone rural areas an addition to the 6 million built in 1990. I am guilty of this, myself. This is where firefighters lose their lives and home owners, who stay even after being told to leave, are risking their lives. This year, 2015, is the worse fire behavior that I have ever seen in 40 years of firefighting. I spent almost two weeks on the Butte fire, and days on other fires. We, firefighters, are behind the curve on training of “overhead,” such as the experienced strike team leaders, division chiefs, and branch supervisors. The fire service needs to set up a lot of training sessions this winter to be ready for 2016. As a firefighter on an engine, all I hear mostly is “trainees” talking on the radio and on the front lines of the fire and in the heat of the battle it is sometimes unnerving to know my safety is in the hands of a “trainee.” I have to wonder just what skills they are bringing to the table in experience. The fires we’re having today are like none I have ever seen: the intensity of the heat, the unpredictability of the behavior, the heavy fuel loads, and the speed of its spread. Each agency has its own standards; but, I, as a volunteer, know that there is always good and marginal in all training so I just hope for the best and all turns out well, and we are ready for next year. To all you firefighters, stay safe and support your unions for they are another layer looking out for your safety and welfare. You firefighters out there without a union, maybe you should look into getting one to represent your department and your interests and that of your family. Where there should always be a trainee is with the strike team leaders for safety, and so the leader does not have to watch maps, use the radio, or do paperwork. All these tasks have to be done while traveling with five engines following behind the leader’s. This should be a priority, and we all should be pushing for this type of change.