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Yuma firefighters got to know wildfire neighbors - with video
Of all the opportunities a career in firefighting provides, one-on-one face time with the community isn't exactly one of them.
But a Yuma Fire Department engine recently had that opportunity while helping contain the California wildfires.
YFD Capt. Daniel Ott, engineer Rick Phillips, firefighter/paramedic Terry Smith and firefighter/emergency medical technician Jesus Hernandez spent two weeks in central and northern California helping protect homes and business from the blaze.
For the first week and a half, the YFD engine was stationed just outside Mariposa, Calif., about 150 miles east of San Jose. Their task was to protect the house of Gloria Attaway by keeping embers off the roof and clearing brush.
Working in 24-hour shifts afforded them time to get to know Attaway and the neighbors in the small community of Ponderosa, Smith said.
"It was awesome to get to meet one on one with the homeowners," Smith said. "It's not something we get to do when we go to a house to respond to a house fire. There's so much action going on, we don't get to stop, talk to them, get to know them. We took advantage of that.
"We were able to tell about our lives - who we are, where we're from - and kind of share some stories," Smith said. "We didn't leave the engine, but neighbors were walking around and we got to meet with them as well."
When they were off-duty, Smith said, he still relished the opportunity to visit with other firefighters while at the base camp.
"We were there with some other big departments. We were there with Beverly Hills fire department, L.A. County, L.A. City, San Francisco, San Diego, so we took advantage of that and got to meet them.
"There's a tradition where we share shirts, so we gave them one of ours and got one of theirs. We kind of kept that tradition going and talked to them and shared stories with them as well."
For the last few days of their deployment, the engine was assigned to Chico, Calif., 250 miles to the north of Mariposa. That time was spent protecting the BTU-Lightning Complex on the outskirts of town. There, they were assigned a section along the fire line - made up of bulldozers and ground crews - to ensure the fire did not cross.
"Getting to meet other firefighters, other departments from other states - some big, some small - they're just like us," Smith said. "They're great people. Getting to share time with the personnel that went with me, getting to know them, that was also a lot of fun."
Smith said on both missions, the engine was successful.
The YFD engine was part of a five-engine strike team made up of California crews from Imperial County, Brawley, Calexico and Holtville. The five groups were given the same assignments and worked together for the two weeks - and embarked together on the 17-hour return trip from Chico.
Smith was the only one of the four available for comment Wednesday. Two others were on duty, and the fourth was off duty.
Edward Carifio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6882.