Originally Published: July 31, 2018 9:17 p.m.
Local fire agency resources committed to out-of-district work
Prescott Fire Department
Personnel: One in Oregon and three in California
Equipment: One type 3 fire engine
Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority
Personnel: 17 spread out between California, Oregon and Washington
Equipment: Two type 3 engines and a type 6 engine
Mayer Fire Department
Personnel: Four in California
Equipment: One type 3 engine
Groom Creek Fire Department
Personnel: Three in California
Equipment: One type 3 engine
Recently, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management received multiple orders for personnel and equipment to head to California to help with more than a dozen fires burning there, including the two largest, the Carr Fire and Ferguson Fire.
As of Monday, July 30, nearly 75 engines and 375 fire personnel from Arizona were in California on various assignments, according to State Forestry officials. A majority are directly assigned to the Carr and Ferguson fires. Others are providing local fire department station coverage, assigned as initial attack resources for new fire starts, and/or standby in anticipation of the next round of lightning forecasted for California.
“These fires are taking out anything and everything in their way, taking lives and destroying property,” said State Forester Jeff Whitney. “The fires are burning at an alarming intensity and high rate of speed. California needs more boots on the ground and the state of Arizona is committed to sending all the resources we can. We will do everything possible to assist our neighbors, but we also have to be mindful we cannot thin our resources at home. Please keep all of our Arizona firefighters, and all of the men and women working these fires in your thoughts.”
The 110,000-acre Carr Fire, burning in Shasta County, has forced the evacuation of more than 30,000 residents and destroyed nearly 1,000 structures. Its containment was about 27 percent as of Tuesday morning, July 31.
The Ferguson Fire, burning near Yosemite, has surpassed 57,000 acres and was about 33 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, July 31.
Combined, the Carr Fire and Ferguson Fire have already claimed the lives of four firefighters.
Arizona firefighters are also supporting other states, including Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
LOCAL DEPARTMENTS CONTRIBUTING
At least 55 Arizona fire departments/agencies have committed personnel and equipment to fight fires in California, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
Based on a list provided by the department, the Prescott Fire Department, Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA), Mayer Fire Department and Groom Creek Fire Department are part of that deployment.
Each has devoted what they feel is an appropriate allotment of personnel and equipment without short-staffing the communities they serve.
“We don’t take out-of-district assignments unless we can do so without compromising our ability to cover this area and our auto-aid agencies as well,” said Groom Creek Fire Department Fire Chief Ernesto Manzanedo.
In CAFMA’s case, they can afford to send as many as 17 personnel to out-of-district incidents given that monsoon weather has reduced the fire activity to the point that local resources are enough to handle most, to all incidents that erupt.
“There are preparedness levels for different areas of the country, and right now, the Southwest is in preparedness level 1,” said CAFMA battalion Chief Brad Davis.
There are five levels of preparedness, with 1 requiring little to no national support, and 5 meaning that a full commitment of national resources is needed and ongoing. Nationally, the level is 5 due to the large, destructive fires burning in California, Oregon and Utah, and the high fire danger in Washington, Nevada, Idaho and northwest Montana.
Each deployment is for 14 days, and can be extended to 21 days if necessary.
If a crew has served its maximum term, but aid is still needed at the incident, the agency will sometimes just swap personnel out.
“One year we were in Washington for 51 days,” said Mayer Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike McGhee. “We just kept swapping out crews.”
Choosing to be part of the rotation is completely voluntary.
“We don’t make people go,” said CAFMA Fire Marshall Rick Chase. “You can choose to be on the off-district team. You have to like doing this sort of off-district work and be away from home for two to three weeks at a time. Also, they have the opportunity to make some extra money on the fire once they go past the normal working hours.”
Another incentive is it’s an opportunity to gain experience.
“It gives our guys training,” McGhee said.
Local firefighters currently doing out-of-district work were unavailable to speak about their experiences.
When a fire agency in Arizona commits personnel and equipment for out-of-district work, the agency neither makes nor loses money.
“What it does is it provides for a mechanism that remains revenue neutral,” Prescott Fire Department Fire Chief Dennis Light said. “It doesn’t cost us extra money, but on the same token it doesn’t make us extra money, because that would be less than legitimate when you’re working between governments.”
The people who typically make additional money are the firefighters who volunteer to do the out-of-district work and those who are backfilling while they’re gone.
All of the overtime hours worked on both ends are paid for by whichever agencies are managing the incidents that are requiring national support. Equipment costs are also covered by a standard recovery rate paid for by those agencies.
“It can be a hybrid of where the dollars come from,” Light said. “There could be local, county, state and/or federal.”
In addition to not costing supporting agencies anything to help fight these fires, there’s also the national understanding that if firefighters from one state help those in another state when in need, the same will happen when the reverse is the case.
“It’s very much a reciprocal agreement,” Light said.