May 01, 2011

Two Crazy Days, Part 3: "No Structures Burned?"

Part 1: "It's Blowing Up"

Part 2: The E-Word

We parked in an open area by the fire station, out of the way of traffic. The wind was blowing hard, and I did not relish erecting the pop-up trailer right away. Nor did I want to leave M. and the dogs there while I took off for who knew how long fighting the fire.

I hated to miss the action, but I figured that I could be some use at the station, so I appointed myself public information officer. After all, I had already manned a hose once that day.

So for the next few hours, I
  • helped members of our department find each other
  • talked to a newspaper reporter and told her how to contact the chief
  • answered inquiries of people who stopped by the station for information
  • relayed messages from firefighters to their spouses at home
  • guided another department's water tender to a hydrant where they could refill—it is at a Catholic summer camp way up in the pines, the only city-style hydrant in 100 square miles
  • sat and watched the smoke, tensing up every time I thought I saw a new plume near our road. No air tankers were flying because of the winds.
Not long after we came, two more volunteers took out the older, recently donated engine that we are rehabilitating. A thirty-something guy and a fifty-something woman in too-large Nomex trousers and an old bunker coat—and a pumper with leaks in its plumbing. As they drove away, something hit me:  "Chas to Unit 3. The left-side booster hose is not connected. Don't turn it on! Only the right-side line is working!"

They would break down only a mile from the station—but the problem was only with the throttle linkage, which the driver literally wired back together—and they helped fight the fire with that one working booster line.

Eventually I put up the trailer. M. and I drank several glasses of wine.

Well after dark, the volunteers started rolling back in. The rancher and his two grown sons who had the water tender backed it into its bay, said a quick good-bye, and headed home to supper.

The brush truck came back, everyone tired and smokey, with a report that the houses nearest the flames were still standing. I started to relax a little.

And the old pumper returned, having picked up a third crew member, with a strong suggestion from the driver that it not go out again until it had had more repairs.

We swapped information, but no one wanted to linger long. The Forest Service wanted the brush truck again at 7 a.m.—not directly to the fire, but at a meeting in the town twelve miles away. Things were starting to get bureaucratic. We had a real "incident management team" now.

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