BREAKING NEWS – October 28, 2019 Fire Season and the balancing act - Pre-positioning in Napa and maintaining adequate staffing and response units here at home

Menlo Park Fire Protection District

Fire Strike Team 2278TF (TF means Task Force) consisting of Division Chief Ben Marra and Battalion Chief Dan Coyle, both from Menlo Fire, and (single) Engines with four person crews from Woodside, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Gilroy and Menlo Fire, are currently headed to Napa. These units represent part of a new State strategy focused on “pre-deployment and positioning” in advance of the fire, rather than reacting to it once it’s burning down entire communities. It also shows the resilience and fierce determination of the fire community, who are all pulling together, for the greater good, especially in times of serious need!

San Mateo County Fire Agencies deployed to the Camp Fire in 2018 – Credit Menlo Fire

Fire Chief Schapelhouman said “we like this new normal of evacuating the communities ahead of the fire, so the fire crews can then focus on the actual fire fight when it comes. They would much rather be pre-positioned than drive through burned out neighborhoods chasing the fire and wondering if everyone made it out alive, some knowing they would probably be back later to find that out. That’s what happened at the Camp Fire last year, when our Urban Search and Rescue Task Force assisted in the human remains and recovery efforts. This can get personal for us, Northern California is where many of our firefighters come from, currently live, or have family, friends and former employees who still live there, or have retired to there. We also host a regional training center that has taught technical search and rescue to many of the career and volunteer fire agencies in Northern California for decades. This fire is in the Bay Area’s backyard and most, everyone knows someone who has lost their home, or more, in the last three years”!

The blending of the Strike Team fire agency composition, that includes scarcely available units and personnel from two different Counties, represents a pairing once frowned upon in years past but shows a new normal in the California Fire Service due to enormous demand for resources, coming from all over the Nation. The Menlo Park Fire District has spent the last five years building up and growing the size of its firefighter workforce, while also focusing on updating its fleet of emergency vehicles. Simply put, “you need a deep bench of healthy firefighters and enough reserve apparatus, to be able to actually comfortably help out. That said, our most important component is the attitude and desire of all of our firefighters and managers to step up and either work on the fire line, or backfill fire stations behind those who are on deployment”, Chief Schapelhouman said.

Sunday’s wind event affected most of these local fire agencies as well. The San Mateo County Fire Chiefs collectively decided to hold all of their resources starting last Friday, most adding additional staffing and units on Saturday and Sunday, just in case and most were kept busy. Once the wind event was winding down and the threat was gone, emergency resources were released for deployment up North, with some leaving on Sunday, and others being sent out this evening, as part of the State’s Mater Mutual Aid system, the largest of its kind in the World.

Most important for local residents is their own preparedness and awareness, but to also know that the Fire Agencies that protect and serve them, are ready to respond to their local emergencies as always, maintaining a constant full staffing model with every fire station ready to go, Chief Schapelhouman said “the minute we know we are sending out our firefighters, we start calling off-duty personnel to fill those vacant positions, even forcing people back to work, if necessary. Then using a reserve, or replacement fire apparatus, so our staffing and the number of emergency response units, stay consistent here at home”.

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