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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Other Lands

My shift was going along smoothly until just after lunch the phone rang. My battalion chief called to let me know that a the OES strike team was likely to get deployed.

OES or Governor's Office of Emergency Services, is a state agency set up to respond to emergencies usually but not always within the state. The state lends an agency an engine under contract that they will staff it and keep it maintained. In return the department gets the use of an engine paid for by the state. These rigs are easily identifiable because of their bright yellow/green color. Santa Clara County Fire Department has a good page on the history of OES.

Twenty minutes later I was heading over to the station that housed the OES rig. We were being deployed on a type 3 engine (similar to the one pictured above). After getting to the station and loading up my personal equipment we headed for the rally point. We would be meeting engines from 4 other agencies and together, with a BC as a leader, we formed a Strike Team.

Plumas County National Forest just outside of Taylorsville.

Hours later we arrived in Plumas County. There had been multiple lightning strikes in the are starting several fires. We were immediately assigned a flank of the fire. Another strike team had punched in a hose line to try and stop the fire. A hand crew had already dug a small line around the fire following the hose line. We were tasked with following up the line and making sure the fire didn't jump over the thin containment line.

The hose line we followed into the forest the night before.

We were working 12 hour shifts. This sounds good until you realize a 12 hour shift is 12 hours of work on the fire line. In your "off" time you have to travel to and from the incident (sometimes over 2 hours in each direction) resupply your engine of things you used in the last operational period such as hose, get briefed for the next shifts assignment, eat 2 meals, hopefully shower and maybe sleep. Sleep seems to suffer the most.

After a long night of hiking and putting out a little bit of fire we were finally released to go back to base camp and get some rest. Back at base camp we found that nothing had been set up yet. The fire was too new to have the giant logistical train of fuel, food etc. We had an MRE breakfast and then looked for a shady place to throw our sleeping bags to try and get some sleep. The only place that offered any real protection from sun and possible rain was the bleachers at a rodeo pavilion.

My pillow makes it look like there's a lot of room. It's folded in half and doesn't even fit width wise.

The problem with the bleachers is that they were about 3 inches too narrow at my shoulders. Once you laid down you were kind of wedged and there wasn't really enough room to move from one position to another. Once you were down, you were done. Between that and the hot day, sleep didn't happen much.

That afternoon we readied ourselves for another night of working. At the evening briefing we were informed to stand down. We would be resting that night as well so that we could be placed on the day shift. Fire is generally more active during the day because of higher temperatures and wind so this made sense. It had the added benefit of allowing us to try to sleep at night....again on the bleachers, because it was starting to drizzle.

To be continued....
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