VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE -- The last few weeks, Vandenberg firefighters have joined the mass efforts to secure the Thomas fire and mudslides in Montecito.
“The Thomas fire burned an excess of 270-thousand acres, destroying over 1,500 structures making the cost to be a couple billion,” said Mark Farias 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, fire chief. “It became the largest fire in California history and we wound up sending a robust amount of resources. We rotated about 30 firefighters through that, and we also had a number of senior fire fighters that were part of the incident management team. As soon as the fire came to an end, the rain came and we had mudslides in some of the worst hit areas from the Thomas fire.”
Vandenberg firefighters joined many of our civilian counterparts to fight these massive incidents.
“We all go to the standard suite of emergencies; house fires, gas leaks, hazardous material calls, vehicle accidents, but no one has had the opportunity to use these rarely practiced skills on an incident that way exceeds an individual department’s capabilities,” said Farias. “It took a collection of departments to form this regional response team, and Vandenberg is lucky to have a large number of people who are certified, trained and equipped to support these mutual aid incidents.”
Essex Martinez, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron station two chief describes a situation his team found themselves in, while providing mudslide support.
“I saw we had about five or six powerlines down, a gas leak, a gas line on fire, and structure fires in front of me and also behind,” said Martinez. “I went back to my crew, and told them ‘There are people that need help. I cannot provide any safety, and if we wait for the gas and electric company to secure this site, people may die.’ I gave them the option, and they didn’t hesitate to move in. We spent a good six hours at that tempo just rescuing as many people as we could.”
The Vandenberg firefighters exemplified true Air Force spirit.
“When we go out to these incidents we are honored to carry the Air Force banner,” said Farias. “Because that’s what they’ll remember more than anything. No matter what Air Force base is out there locally, if there is something bad that happens, the Air Force is going to do whatever it can to help.”