Military News

Sunday, June 21, 2015

JBER responds to Alaska wildfires

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 everywhere."

"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 Sockeye fire.

The agency in charge of this massive operation is the DOF, said Andrew Lambert, assistant chief of special operations, JBER fire and emergency services.

"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 from them."

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 and properties."

"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.

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