President’s Message September 17, 2014
Brothers and Sisters:
I want to start off by saying that as this historically difficult fire season continues to erupt in different parts of our state, please be safe and take care of each other so that at the end of the shift everyone can go home and be with family and friends.
Earlier this year, I communicated with the governor’s office that climate, drought conditions and changing demographics were all conspiring to make this a very difficult time for firefighters.
We need to learn the policy lesson that the old notions about fire season were written at a time when we only had fifteen million people in California and the urban-wildland interface was barely part of our vocabulary.
Statistics prove what those of us who have been on the front line know to be real, that we are constantly being challenged to answer increasingly intensive fires under conditions that are life-threatening to private citizens and the firefighters who are answering the call.
Yes, I am seriously bothered by the contract problems that are also a constant echo as we see others go home while we remain on the front lines. However, today I want to talk about the incredible efforts that are a part of the CAL FIRE work ethic.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the members in the Siskiyou Unit and monitor the devastation to the community of Weed. The Weed community has a very small town feel to it where the neighbors look after each other. There is unselfishness to the community, and I saw examples of commitment to neighbor and town that will stay with me not only for the rest of my career, but the remainder of my life.
Four of our firefighters have been to enough fires to understand that their own homes were in danger of being consumed.
All four of them ultimately lost their homes. One of our members displayed a true example of dedication to the job we have chosen to do when he left his burning home to command the fire fight and ensure his community was evacuated without loss of life. Another member who lost everything was fighting another fire 200 miles away , while the third and fourth members were on rare days off after spending weeks on duty and raced home only to find their homes engulfed. There was no request for special treatment, and the job of ending the risk for everyone was paramount.
This has been a damn tough week where our membership is showing signs of fatigue, and morale is being tested by long shifts with little to zero time off.
Over the last couple of days, our members were tested mentally, physically and emotionally in numerous situations. A state utility was destroyed along with two local government engines, two CAL FIRE engines were involved in a vehicle accident with injuries to the public, and a shelter deployment of a crew captain with his inmate firefighters and a dozer operator meant using their training to save their lives. And, terribly, the four firefighters I mentioned earlier who lost all of their belongings.
In the face of these very real human tragedies, I am very proud of our CDF Firefighters Benevolent Foundation who also visited the members in Weed to assist in every way possible. As many of you know, as the bureaucracy of insurance companies rolls forward with forms to fill out and adjustors trying to reach the scene, our foundation issued financial assistance immediately to the members.
As we head toward the end of September the temperatures around the state still send the red line of a thermometer close to the century mark. The risks continue to be an everyday occasion. We all know the risks, we’ve all been there tired and sure we are at the end of our rope only to be sent to another call instead of going home.
Take care of each other; you are the finest firefighters in the world.