September of the Past

As we approach the anniversary of the Eva Schicke fatality, Valley Fire, Lauder Fire and the World Trade Center Attacks.

Firefighter Schicke was a member of an elite 9 person helitack team. The team was called to fight the beginning stages of the Tuolumne Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest. When the team arrived aboard their helicopter, 7 members of the team were dropped off, and 2 members remained with the helicopter to begin water drops. Firefighters established safety zones and began their decent into a steep canyon.

The fire was moving up the canyon away from them and had displayed mild behavior at this point in the incident. While the crew was working, a wind shift blew the fire toward the crew. With only moments to react due to the speed of the fire, firefighters were forced to run to their safety zones. Firefighter Schicke and another firefighter attempted to run uphill to the roadside safety zone. The first firefighter made it to safety; however the fire overran Firefighter Schicke before she could reach the safety of the road. The cause of death for Firefighter Schicke was smoke inhalation. Firefighter Schicke was the first female CDF firefighter to be killed in the line of duty. Firefighter Schicke died September 12,2004.

The Valley Fire occurred in a weather pattern very similar to the one we are in this week and it was mild in appearance. The temperatures were low around 80 degrees, winds were S/W 10 TO 20 , and even some cloud cover.

The Valley Fire was a wildfire during the 2015 California wildfire season that started on September 12, in Lake County, California. The fire started shortly after 1:00 pm near Cobb and by 6:30 PM had burned more than 10,000 acres. By Sunday, the thirteenth of September, the fire had reached 50,000 acres and had destroyed much of Cobb, Middletown, Whispering Pines, and parts in the south end of Hidden Valley Lake. The fire ultimately spread to 76,067 acres, killed four people and destroyed nearly 2,000 buildings. At the time, the fire was the third-worst fire in California history, based on the total structures burned

Valley Fire statistics, September 12, 2015,Burned area, 76,067 acres, Buildings destroyed,1955 structures,93 structures damaged, Fatalities 4,Non-fatal injuries,4 (firefighters).

On September 11, 2001 The Battalion Chief of FDNY Battalion 1 witnessed American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center and immediately radioed a multiple alarm incident. Over the course of the next three hours, 121 engine companies, 62 ladder companies and 27 fire officers were deployed to the scene. All off-duty firefighters were recalled — the first time the FDNY had issued a total recall in over 30 years.

In addition to the regular fire apparatus and personnel assigned to the incident, the FDNY also deployed its only Haz-Mat unit, its mobile command center, its field communications unit, all its five rescue units, both of its high-rise units, six of its seven squad units, and one of its two tactical support units.

The attacks on the WTC took the lives of 343 FDNY members and nearly 2200 civilians.

On the morning of September 29, 1987, near Willits in Lake County, CA, five members of the Helitack crew on Copter 102 from Kneeland Helitack in Humboldt County, were removing vegetation in the path of a “spot fire” started by embers which were blown a short distance ahead of the main Lauder Fire. The larger fire suddenly roared in their direction and the smaller spot fire merged with it.

All 5 crew members were entrapped and deployed their shelters. Denis Cullins died and the others suffered burn injuries covering 15 to 50 percent of their bodies.

August 1st, is usually a timestamp when the fuels, and weather in Northern California reach their critical levels and our fire season takes off! This year is proving to be anything but typical. We had historic burning conditions occurring in June of this year, and those conditions have carried through this week, and they are expected to get worse.

Please take a moment to review the above mentioned incidents.

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Boles Fire
King Fire
Butte Fire

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Tubbs
Jones

All provide lessons.

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Courtney fire.

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https://vimeo.com/106178808

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Poe, Bassetts, Moonlight, Gulch, Dog Bar, King, Butte.

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September 11 20 years ago I was on the Star Fire ENF/TNF, Its a day to remember and never forget. Our lives changed in a minute. Being with my team family members helped us all get thru this event. Please remember family is what keeps us all doing what we do and remember all that have given the ultimate sacrifice to the people we protect us all.

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49er Fire, North San Juan/Penn Valley, Ca, September 11, 1988.

Chief Ed Waggoner said, this is the fire of the future.

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Darby Fire 20 years ago.
Many close calls on the 10th. Fortunate that no one got hurt on the Strike Team that day! Fortunate no one was hurt on other Strike Teams. Engines were scorched and some were hauled away on flatbeds. As the sun was coming up on the 11th, it was confusing trying to make sense of why all of our air support was grounded? Then news was slowly spreading about what had taken place! Once released from the incident many days later, we all went home to a different world!

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Where were you at 0603 hrs on Sept 11, 2001…

Ill never forget where i was.

Of all the assignments i liked best i’d have to say that next to falling boss i liked being a strike team or task force leader the best. Actually just being a part of strike teams (leader or follower) was good enough for me. That’s why i was in a very happy place when my engineer pulled into the rest stop at Whiskeytown Nat’l Recreation Area.

We (Strike team 3615C) were on our way to a fire(s) near Willow Creek, Ca. As i recall the fires were of suspicious origin. None of that really mattered at the time though. I don’t recall much excitement driving to our first stop. Im sure the crew was fired up to be heading out. I probably programed the command & tactical radios so we could hear chatter from the fire and most likely shot the breeze with “Nelly", my co-captain/engineer. We most likely ran through a few hypothetical scenarios of who/what started the fires we were about to be assigned to. It can be “tricky” & "interesting” fighting fires in that part of the country. Especially near the reservation. Ill leave it at that.

As usual it was an early start for all of us and by the time we got to the rest stop we had traveled for more than an hour. Some of the other engines came from even further away than us, it was approx 0550 when the radio came to life and our fearless leader nicknamed "Hub” gave a call to peel off Hwy 299 and make a pit stop before dropping into the canyon for the the 2nd leg of the trip. I think it was only few minutes before we arrived at the whyskytown rest stop/visitor center when i started hearing something very out of place on the am/fm radio. I recall there was this chatter from the dj’s about something big going on in New York.

We all pulled into the parking lot and the crews scattered for the bathrooms. I don’t recall ever taking a leak. I do recall getting out of the engine and grouping up with a few folks from my department. There was a low chatter beginning to get louder between the crews and i even recall a civilian being in the parking lot and saying something like “airplane crashed into tower on purpose”, or something. I think they may have even asked if we had any information about NY. It was about 0600. I remembered the “mop up” tv on the engine. We keep one for emergencies and stand-by. It was one of those cheap handheld tv’s that runs off of 5 aa batteries. It took a couple minutes to dig out the tv. About that same time i began hearing the national news cut in over the local radio broadcast. At 0602 i clicked on the little tv and started scrolling thru the channels when i surprisingly found an nbc broadcast. The picture was great, in color and everything. I think i probably yelled at the gang to come take a look because i recall there was at least a couple people standing next to me when we saw United Flight 175 slam into tower 2. It was exactly 0603hrs. It looked like a bullet from nelly’s 300 ultramag going into that tower. I had never seen or expected to see that level of violence. I had certainly not anticipated how seeing all of that would forever change a great many things in my life and my world view. Ill never forget it. I’ve never looked at the world the same way since 9/11.

To say things went a little fuzzy after that is an understatement. I know we must have been talking about what we saw as we loaded back up in the truck and continued on towards the fire. For the life of me can’t recall a damn word of what we said though? I only recall a crazy driver that tried really hard to kill several of us on one of the most dangerous & beautiful roads in Trinity county. Were is a CHP when you need one. It took us about 56 minutes or so to get to Weaverville because that’s where i recall watching tower 2 come down and it fell 56 minutes after being hit. Tower one held out for another 29 minutes. In seeing those towers come down i remember feeling the same profound shock to my system as i got when watching planes fly into the buildings, It was crazy and profound. Why was i feeling this way for so many i didn’t know and so many who couldn’t be further from “our kind”. We’re not municipal firefighters. They weren’t forest firefighters. We aren’t like them, the forest service isn’t Rampart & emergency/squad 51. Never had i felt so connected to the fire service fraternity as i did at that moment.

Despite being a 100% green blooded “Wildlander” since 1988 ive only known a mutual aid concept in my professional & voulunter career. Sometimes i wonder if thats why 9/11 had such a profound impact on me. I could easily see myself being asked to help evacuate those stairwells or haul a hi-rise pack & trauma bag to those upper floors. In that moment i was thinking why couldn’t our strike team go there instead of the litttle fire we were headed to on the Six Rivers NF. How would we react. I can still find myself drifting towards those thoughts every time i see something on pbs or in the news about Sept 11. Its not a healthy place to linger in so i don’t.

At some point we made it to that fire. I remember something about protecting a cultural site called the "dancing rocks”. We most likely also protected some pot plants while at it because thats what you do in most of that country. It certainly couldn’t have been further from what our brothers/sisters were dealing with in NY. I remember badly wanting to be in NY instead of the SRF. One of the last things i vividly remember is that we passed by several local guard stations and there was one in particular that could not have felt more cold or un inviting. As i recall it was my wingman (aka; best engineer I’ve ever known) who was about to throttle a couple of rude forestry tech’s who couldn’t be more inconvenienced or put out because we begged them to stop watching cartoons and turn the EFFING news on because our crews were starving for information. Im glad we didn’t have to take it to the next level because the next level was coming on fast. It was not their finest moment for sure.

Things were chaotic and i don’t remember how the management team addressed 9/11, if at all. I don’t remember exactly how long we were away from home on that trip. I don’t recall our chief officers ever addressing it beyond water cooler discussion. I just remember that nothing has felt the same since that morning. Everything in my worldview became a little askew after that. I did a terrible job addressing it for myself & with my crew at the time. Looking back with some benefit of hindsight i can now see the missed opportunities to ask tough & not so tough questions in the days/month after 9/11. There were plenty of opportunities to engage the crew in dialog beyond just being pissed off and wanting to focus only on the who… Merica!! Lets just say that I wish i had known then what an “emotional support buddy check" could look / feel like. In our own ways we put band aids where they were needed and got back to work right away - like we’ve always done…

Where were you at 0603 hrs on Sept 11, 2001…

Ill never forget where i was.

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