Editor’s note: In October of last year, several major fires burned across Northern California, destroying thousands of homes and burning hundreds of thousands of acres. To help aid in the firefighting relief efforts, the San Gabriel Fire Department sent several firefighters up north, including Firefighter/Paramedic Aaron Terry, Engineer/Paramedic and Public Information Officer Antonio Negrete, and Firefighter/Paramedic Takahira Suzuki. We talked to them to get their perspective on their experiences up north.
Aaron Terry: We were initially dispatched to a fire in Orange County in the Anaheim Hills. We were there for approximately two days, and once everything was under control, we went straight from Anaheim to Santa Rosa.
Takahiro Suzuki: On the ride there, we’re mentally preparing for the situation, and we’re receiving vital information about the fire’s condition.
AT: The worst had already come through, and we were there for relief efforts – just to help everyone when the dust had settled. There were several instances when the weather was getting bad and the fire exhibited unpredictable behavior, but much of our focus was picking up the pieces and moving forward.
TS: We had three assignments. Our first assignment was body recovery and making sure all the hot spots were out in our assigned neighborhood. Our second assignment was at a veteran’s home, where we provided protection for a small community of patients. Our final assignment was structural protection. We went through roads that were in the mountains, and we were assigned to a house to make sure the fire didn’t jump the road and hit people’s houses.
AT: We were operating in 24-hour shift periods, so we had a shift on the line in the devastated areas, and we had a 24-hour period off the line where we came back to base camp where we would recuperate, rest and rehydrated. During the period in which we were in the devastation, we would sleep in our engine. We’d have a fire look-out while the rest of the crew recuperated.
During this time, Engineer/Paramedic and Public Information Officer Antonio Negrete was also deployed to northern California as a single resource.
Antonio Negrete: We had received word about the Santa Rosa incident about the same time as the fires in Orange County, and I had completed my regular shift. Chief Doehler informed me that they were requesting PIOs in Santa Rosa, and that I had been requested.
We are called out as a single resource, so we travel on our own. After driving for several hours, I reported to my assigned location. I was assigned to the media phone with a fact sheet of all the latest up-to-date information. As a bilingual speaker, I also gave several interviews to Telemundo and Univision.
AT: When you’re deployed on incidents like this, you usually see the same faces. We all work for different agencies, but when we work on the same incident, it’s like working for one department. The commodore is like that of your coworkers. These are your brothers and sisters.
AN: Going to meet people that were affected by the fires was humbling and sad. I was at an information center for residents, and there was a lady who walked in with her husband. They brought me a muffin and a coffee. We talked about the fires, and I said “thankfully you’re okay, and I’m assuming your home is okay as well.” She replied that she had lost everything, and that they were staying with relatives hoping to get back to their home. These are people that have lost everything, but they still took the time to bring me a coffee and a muffin because of how appreciative they are. This put a lot into perspective.
TS: You’re there to help them, and you don’t want them to pay for your lunches. But here’s this community giving us supplies and thanking us for helping them. I felt like the community was behind us and doing everything they could do to help us so we could do everything to help them.