by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs
6/20/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Firefighters
from the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron departed Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson June 14 to assist the Division of Forestry's
efforts in containing the Sockeye wildfire near Willow.
The fire is currently estimated to cover more than 7,000 acres of land
and was considered the number-one priority for fire resources in the
nation until June 18 because of the population nearby, said David Donan,
JBER fire and Emergency Services fire chief.
JBER sent four vehicles to assist DOF efforts. Among the four vehicles
sent were a structural engine, a water tender and a brush engine.
The structural engine is an emergency vehicle designed to protect
structures from fires, much like the fire trucks often seen around base.
The brush engine is equipped for going off-road and has a large supply
of hand-held fire-fighting tools available. The water tender holds 4,000
gallons of water.
In addition to the vehicles, JBER sent rotating 24-hour shifts, each
consisting of 11 firefighters. At 4:30 a.m., fresh firefighters relieve
their soot-covered and exhausted counterparts.
"The heat is just impressive," Donan said. "All the areas out there that
have burned are holding the heat, and the sun is just beating down.
Where they're operating is almost all dirt roads, there's dust just
"It's kind of what you'd consider a wartime environment in the desert."
According to recent estimates, there are approximately 650 firefighters
from Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 working together to contain the
The agency in charge of this massive operation is the DOF, said Andrew
Lambert, assistant chief of special operations, JBER fire and emergency
"Over the years, we've built up a pretty good working relationship with
some of the local response partners through training," Lambert said.
JBER firefighters need to be ready to respond to a variety of different fires and have been trained accordingly.
"We're all trained to a common standard and our firefighters are
actually trained for wildland firefighting by the Alaska Division of
Forestry," said Michael Lefebvre, assistant chief of operations, JBER
fire and emergency services. "It's a pretty hand-in-glove-relationship."
"This is just a part of our job--but the guys we are working with, this
is their whole job," Lefebvre said. "So we get to sap that experience
JBER firefighters are fighting to save the homes and livelihoods of
at-risk homes in the area. When they come back, they'll have valuable
real-world experience they can use to save lives in the future as well.
"We don't see a lot of type-1 events on a routine basis, so this is very beneficial training for us," Lambert said.
There are many ways to support the firefighters, the most basic of them is practicing good fire prevention at home.
"Due to the prolonged heat and dry weather we've had, we are in fire
weather index extreme across all of JBER," Donan said. "We're also
dealing with almost daily red flag conditions."
"That makes it even more important that people don't exacerbate the problem we already have," Donan said.
JBER is under a burn ban, no fires of any kind are currently authorized.
Remove potential fire hazards from the immediate vicinity of your house
and minimize explosive risks like propane.
By reducing the need for expending resources elsewhere, JBER families
contribute to the safety of their brothers and sisters in the wildfires.
"There is nothing these guys are doing that is glamorous," Donan said.
"I have no doubt in my mind that our guys have saved some people's homes
"It's impressive to see our young guys go out there and be on par with some of the best in the world," Lefebvre said.