Among the nearly 5,000 first responders battling the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County are a contingent of local men and women. They’re assisting their neighbors to the north through California’s Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System, which provides coordinated response during major emergencies.
“By providing mutual aid, we reinforce their forces and hopefully can mitigate whatever disaster, whether it’s fire, flood, earthquake,” said Mike Krisman, Santa Clara County Fire Department battalion chief.
Krisman is one of 22 county fire department staffers who have spent two weeks on the Kincade Fire front lines. Since the Oct. 23 ignition northeast of Geyserville, the blaze has consumed more than 77,750 acres, destroyed at least 374 structures and injured at least four people. CAL FIRE had deemed the fire 80% contained as of Monday, the Town Crier’s print deadline. If conditions continue to improve, Krisman and his strike team may be able to return home today or Thursday.
The SCCFD team consists of five engines with four firefighters each and a strike team vehicle carrying support equipment and tools staffed with two more. Since arriving Oct. 23, the firefighters have worked mostly 24-hour shifts, though at least one marathon 36-hour stint elapsed. When they’re not manning the fire lines, they return to Base Camp at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa to refuel their equipment and bodies and to repair broken equipment and replenish their water supplies. Electricity is limited due to the pre-emptive PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs, and sleep, when there’s time, takes place in 42-person trailers.
“The days blend together and you’ll go out to the fire line and you’ll work so hard and the next thing you know, you haven’t eaten and it’s almost dark and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. I thought we just got here,’” Krisman said.
The Mountain View Fire Department joined the fight Oct. 25 by sending 12 employees – a mix of EMTs and paramedics – and two engines to Sonoma County. Two days later, while extinguishing a spot fire, the group encountered a burn victim and administered advanced life support medical care to the patient, whom they helped into an air ambulance.
Between the Kincade Fire and the PG&E outages, department personnel have kept on their toes, said Robert Maitland, fire department spokesman.
“As you can imagine, we’ve been very busy these past few weeks,” he said.
The Mountain View Police Department has pitched in, too, sparing two dispatchers to field emergency calls and help coordinate the dispatch of strike teams during their 12-hour shifts.
“They’ll essentially be doing what they do down here but at higher intensity,” said Katie Nelson, MVPD spokeswoman.
Despite the long hours and extended time away from home, the emergency responders from Santa Clara County find the work rewarding; Krisman’s team members are confident they saved several homes last weekend when 90-mph, hurricane-force winds descended on the North Bay and threatened to cast embers miles away. And the locals are grateful, stopping to thank the visiting heroes by buying them coffee or lunch or simply exchanging a kind word.
“I think for most of us,” Krisman said, “it’s kind of embarrassing that, well, for one, we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and what we’re trained to do, and No. 2, that we can’t do more. And that’s the hard one.You can see a community that’s in pain and hurting and being impacted by a disaster like this and you just wish you could do more.”