Getchell firefighters answer Californias call for assistance

ARLINGTON With just a hint of disappointment in their voices, they quickly admitted they didnt see in person any of the towering California wildfires most of us saw in the media over the last month or so.

ARLINGTON With just a hint of disappointment in their voices, they quickly admitted they didnt see in person any of the towering California wildfires most of us saw in the media over the last month or so.
That fact doesnt mean their job was an easy one.
It can break your back, Jason Kestle said of the mopping up work he and three other local firefighters undertook, at times, a mere 100 yards from the Mexican border. The shifts they worked were 24 hours long.
The Getchell fire house, Snohomish Fire District 22, sent the four volunteer firefighters and an engine south in response to calls for help with the well publicized brush fires that destroyed thousands of acres and an untold number of homes in several parts of southern California.
After a two-week tour of duty, the team arrived home early in the evening of Nov. 6.
Getchell Fire Captain Jeremy Stocker was in charge of the local contingent California officials assigned to what was dubbed the Harris fire, or Harris event. When they arrived on the scene, they helped take over for their California counterparts.
The relief on their faces, it was just nice, said Getchell firefighter Brian Kees.
A lot of those guys, Kestle said, were out there for weeks just getting their butts kicked.
Stocker said the Getchell team spent most of their time patrolling a four or five mile area in a big canyon, putting out embers and just making sure the Harris fire didnt become active again.
There were a lot of homes that were just gone, Kestle said. And then there were some, for whatever reason, that were just sitting out in the middle of nowhere untouched.
The hospitality was amazing, said firefighter Tyler Bottin. Stocker talked about California locals waving and cheering as the Getchell truck made its way around.
After spending a week dealing with what was left of the Harris fire, the Getchell team thought they were headed home. But then came predictions of possible high winds and low humidity, two factors that helped feed the massive fires in the first place. The four-man Getchell squad was assigned as back up to a firehouse in Riverside, Calif. Basically, they were there in case brush fires in that area decided to come back to life.
Getchell Fire Chief Travis Hots said his unit was in a unique position to lend a hand during the California crisis. For about six years, Getchell has been part of a statewide mobilization program. When an area becomes overwhelmed, officials can send for help beyond their routine mutual aid partners.
Not every department takes in the state mobilization, Hots said, adding part of the reason is the special training personnel have to go through. Among other requirements, local personnel have to earn certification to work fire lines.
Everybody learns to fight structural fires, Hots said, but he added combating brush or wildfires takes special techniques. Certification means not only hands-on training, but actually participating in fighting such fires. The four Getchell firefighters who went to California all have gone on previous deployments closer to home, mostly in eastern Washington. Although the trucks arent standard equipment, Getchell has two specially equipped brush fire vehicles.
Hots went out of his way to point out those trucks were financed in part by donations from the Tulalip Tribes. Sitting in southern Arlington, the Getchell firehouse covers parts of that city, Marysville and the Tulalip reservation.
Californias call for help arrived locally via e-mail. When Hots asked for volunteers, he said 12 firefighters didnt blink at committing to two weeks far from home. Hots didnt have to choose who ultimately went to California; he just followed a pre-existing list.
The list is generated essentially by the firefighters themselves. After completing brush fire training, Hots invites anyone interested in going on deployments to show up at the firehouse on a certain day with a pack ready to go. The first ones to arrive end up at the top of his volunteer list.
Ultimately, in this case, the Getchell team was part of a deployment of 21 firefighters and five engines from four firehouses in Snohomish and King counties. After gathering in Monroe, the convoy drove 27 hours straight to a staging area in Campo, Calif., spending their first night sleeping under the stars.
Back in Getchell last week, still unpacking their equipment and not even having had time to greet friends and family, all of the local firefighters who went on the California trip said they would undoubtedly go again.
Id leave tonight if they wanted me to, Kees said.