How local fire departments manage

June 13, 2008 7:24:01 PM PDT
California is coping with four major wildfires today. Hundreds of Bay Area firefighters are on the job, hundreds of miles from home. How do local fire departments manage when their stations are short-handed?

Fifteen Bay Area strike teams are away from home, fighting to contain the fires in Santa Cruz and Butte County.

"We actually sent three strike teams out last night and we do have a couple of people at the Martin Fire," says Chief Rich Milan of Alameda County Fire.

A strike team equates to five engines and up to four firefighters per engine. For Alameda County Fire, that means 29 firefighters gone, and fewer hands to handle local emergency calls.

"We all operate on limited resources and limited funds, so we have to help each other out sometimes," says Milan.

Alameda County is one of 16 counties that comprise OES' Region Two, an area that spans from Humboldt to Monterey and San Benito counties. During fire season, it becomes a juggling act to determine which crews will stay and which will go.

The Region Two command operates in Contra Costa's fire dispatch center. OES solicits the mutual aid and local fire chiefs decide how many crews they can spare.

"It depends on where the fire breaks. As the fire escalates and goes beyond the capability of local services, then adjacent counties will be sent," says Region Two coordinator Chief John Ross.

To date, Alameda County has sent four strike teams from Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin County.

"We had a statewide conference call last night and the Governor said money is not an issue regarding public safety and these fires," says Ross.

But, there is an issue whether local firefighters on the road leave Bay Area communities at risk.

Alameda County Fire says they're at their limit now, and rely on firefighters to stay and work extra shifts and fill in the gaps.

"Local residents don't have to worry. We have them covered and we're going to be responding, and if they call 911, they're going to get a fire unit that shows up," says Milan.


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