‘Firefighters helping firefighters:’ neighboring agencies assist in under-resourced battle

in Community/Featured/Headline

As the mostly volunteer firefighters with the Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek fire districts worked tirelessly over the last week to protect their neighbors’ homes from the CZU Lightening Complex fires — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — the lack of adequate resources became glaringly apparent.

“Fire personnel were lying on the concrete floor of the apparatus in their dirty gear just to get some sleep,” Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman stated after visiting the scene.

With hundreds of lightning-caused fires raging across the state, Cal Fire has struggled to provide adequate resources on all fronts, including within the CZU Lightening Complex fires, which as of Tuesday had burned about 78,000 acres and destroyed at least 330 homes.

Thankfully, a coordinated local effort by neighboring firefighting agencies, not just from Menlo Park but also Redwood City, Woodside and North County Fire, has provided a boost to the fire battles in Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, which are particularly under-resourced.

“The initial ‘ask’ from Ben Lomond was for a loaner stripped down reserve training fire engine,” Schapelhouman said. “But we quickly realized when we brought it up there that they and Boulder Creek, needed much, much more.”

Within hours, “we were back with a 6000 Gallon Water Tanker we occasionally use at our training center along with pallets of water and Gatorade,”  Schapelhouman said. “Within the next 24 hours, we delivered cots and sleeping bags, toiletries, spare radios and fire foam. Now each day we ask them what they need and serve as their logistical supply line so they can focus on the important task of saving their communities.”

Schapelhouman’s district is particularly adept at such a response. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District is a sponsoring agency for the FEMA State and National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. The district’s CA-TF3 Incident Support Team is one of 28 such teams nationally specializing in rapid deployment to disaster areas.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Carl Kustin, a Boulder Creek resident and member of the CA-TF3 team, told Schapelhouman about the dire situation in his hometown. Schapelhouman “mobilized his team and network” to assist, the Times reported. In addition to the assistance mentioned above, Schapelhouman “secured several infrared and heat-seeking drones for the volunteer firefighters to use for fire reconnaissance,” which are set to be used Wednesday. Meanwhile, Kustin turned the firehouse in Boulder Creek into “a de facto operations center,” the newspaper said.

Currently, Menlo Fire has 13 firefighters and two chief officers deployed to the CZU Lightning Complex fires and other fires around the state, Schapelhouman  said. Woodside, Redwood City and North County Fire firefighters are also assisting in the fire battles.

On Tuesday, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District posted photos of the local, multi-agency effort to social media, stating:

“Firefighters helping firefighters! The Menlo Park Fire Protection District among with @woodsidefireprotectiondistrict, @redwoodcityfire, and North County Fire provided additional resources to help the fire agencies and communities in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County affected by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.”

Headline photo credit: Menlo Fire

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