Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Strike Team

Time to get caught up. Last week at work turned out a little different than the usual go to work for 24 hours then go home. Sunday morning we got the call that Southern California was burning and we were to head down there on a strike team to help protect homes from the raging flames. A strike team is made up of 5 engines and a strike team leader. Our team would consist of 3 Reno engines, an engine from Sparks and one from Carson City. I drove Engine 11 from Reno. It was my first time on a strike team where I was the operator of an engine.

We picked up the Carson City engine on our way down Hwy 395. I have to admit I love driving down the east side of the Sierras on 395. We were a little late for the prime viewing time for fall colors but it was still beautiful. We made good time with a couple stops for fuel and food. About 10 hours after we started I found myself entering the Los Angeles area. We were headed to the Triangle Complex in Yorba Linda.

There's something pretty nerve wracking about driving down El Cajon pass in the dark, in a 40,000 lb engine, jockeying for position with 18 wheelers and crazy LA drivers (sorry LA drivers, but you know it's true). I think every muscle in my body was tense. And passing a fatal vehicle accident where the body was still on the side of the road covered by a tarp didn't help. Reality check. Even though I deal with accidents and life and death for a living, it never gets easy.

We checked in at base camp at the Irvine Regional Park about 8pm. One thing we brought with us was a change in weather conditions, the winds decided to die down, good for home owners and the firefighting efforts. We were told to check in the morning for an assignment so we headed to a Motel 6 (actually, more like a Motel 5). It was late when we finally bedded down and the alarm went off early to get us back to base camp. We waited half the day for an assignment that would never come. With the decrease in winds, the threat to homes was becoming minimal. We passed the time as firefighters do, eating, sleeping, telling war stories.

Hanging out, waiting for assignment
I decided to make the most of our downtime by throwing on my running shoes and exploring the park. It was a really neat park, there was a small train and a zoo. Lots of open space and green grass. I think I did about 5 miles (pain free-Yeah). I got some funny looks from other strike teams but after I finished I noticed a firefighter run by so maybe I inspired at least one person to run.

Some of the zoo's inhabitants checking us out

Monday night still found us unassigned so we were put up in another hotel close to Disneyland. There were some nice places to eat close to the hotel and some of us chose California Pizza Kitchen. Great food. I had one of the best pasta dishes ever. Highly recommend it.
Getting ready to hit the road. Yes, I'm in tennis shoes, easier to drive in
The next morning we were finally released but like any good government operation it takes forever to get all the paperwork in order and we didn't leave LA until about noon. We got to Lone Pine about 6 or 7pm. We were getting fuel when the Sparks engine decided it had had enough and died. Long story short we couldn't get it going and ended up having to stay the night in Lone Pine. We got an early start after loading the Sparks firefighters into the remaining rigs and leaving the engine to get repaired.
Early morning start in Lone Pine

Early morning light on Mt. Whitney

We finally arrived back in Reno about noon. It was a long way to drive and not fight fire which is tough to do. Our job is to fight fires but the fact that we didn't get to is actually a good thing. The winds died down, the fire came under control and our efforts were not needed. All good things for homeowners in that area.

1 comment:

Darrell said...

Thanks for coming down to help. We all appreciate it.

My own home was far from the fires. My car was parked near where the whole thing started last Saturday.