CPF District 2 represents the counties of Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles - with the exception of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Local 112 and Los Angeles County Fire Fighters, Local 1014.
Action in the Wake of Disaster
The year 2017 ended with a bang, and 2018 started the same way.
In District 2, firefighters and other first responders found themselves facing what turned out to be the largest wildfire in California history – the Thomas Fire. In that blaze alone, more than 1,000 structures burned and two people lost their lives, including Firefighter Cory Iverson. Most of the homes were lost the first night, as the mutual aid system struggled to provide resources to get ahead of the fire. Like many of you reading this, I worked the fire starting the first night. During these critical hours, we saw gale force winds push fire through drought-stressed fuel beds at amazing rates of spread. We watched as houses quickly joined the other fuels with few resources, namely engines, available to defend them.
Through the course of the night, help arrived from local agencies throughout Southern California, and that immediate help made all the difference. While many homes were lost, the potential was there to lose many thousands more. By sunrise we were working with 15 engines from 3 mixed strike teams, all local agencies, all working together and expertly engaging structure defense under extreme fire conditions. What we saw that day was the state’s mutual aid system in action, and anybody that was there understands they saved lives, not just houses.
Weeks later, with the Thomas fire barely contained, 21 people lost their lives in the Montecito “debris flow.” The mutual aid system was again put to the test, sending local agency engines, USAR teams, and other specialty units to this dangerous incident.
These back-to-back disasters illustrate one point incredibly clear - the statewide mutual aid system is stressed. There are simply not enough resources available, and getting requests processed and engines on the road often takes too long.
One answer to this is the pre-positioning of engine companies.
In times of high fire danger, upstaffing additional engines in threatened areas is the only way to stay ahead. For local agencies this usually means spending significant amounts of money on overtime and other costs before there is an emergency, money they don’t have in their budget. That means the same local agencies we rely on to provide 80 percent of our mutual aid resources have no funding source to pre-position equipment when and where large fires are likely to start.
The day of the Thomas Fire, the potential for a devastating fire was well-known, and some local agencies had up-staffed in anticipation. Unfortunately, not all agencies had the ability to do so. The resources which were pre-positioned helped prevent greater loss in the City of Santa Paula and other areas near the origin.
California Professional Firefighters, together with a broad coalition of stakeholders, are working to support a proposal that would provide money to fund local agency participation in the mutual aid system, including $87 million that can be used for pre-positioning, and another $13 million to make mutual aid dispatch more efficient.
With extreme fires becoming our new normal, this money, and a commitment from all mutual aid partners to use it, is critical to saving lives. When the time comes to talk to your legislators about this bill, just reflect back on what we just went through and share what you know.
Nothing more should be necessary.