U.S.

July 6, 2012

Vandenberg sends “hot shots” to Colorado wildfire front lines

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by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello
30th Space Wing Public Affairs
Hotshots 1

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) — Vandenberg Air Force Base officials deployed the only Defense Department wild land firefighting asset at 2 p.m. June 27 in support of the wild land firefighting efforts in Colorado Springs, Colo.

March Air Reserve Base quickly responded to the DOD request for airlift by launching a C-17 Globemaster III to Vandenberg AFB to pick up the hot shots crew. After which, the transport jet flew the crew and their equipment to the scene of the firefight.

“March Field’s global response capability was once again put to the test when called in to support combating the wildfires,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Sullivan, pilot, 729th Airlift Squadron. “From the initial call at 7:30 a.m., to wheels up at 10:40, we were able to expeditiously compose a crew and plan for the mission. The three hours it took to generate this mission made it one of the quickest turns in March Field history.”

Once at Vandenberg, Master Sgts. Frederick Fowler and Geoffry Parish, loadmasters, 729th AS, took over.  They coordinated with the 18-member Vandenberg AFB Hot Shots crew to load the crew carrier vehicles, one superintendent support vehicle and one all-terrain vehicle, into the belly of the Globemaster.

After a quick passenger brief, they pushed on to the next leg of their mission, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  Upon arrival, Parish and Fowler quickly unchained the vehicles and had them off the aircraft in about 25 minutes.

“This is national support at its finest,” said Mark Farias, the Vandenberg AFB Fire Department chief. “The VAFB Hot Shots, being the only DOD hot shots, bring a critical skill set to the fight. These guys will be on the front lines using their training regarding wildfires and urban interface to save lives and structures in the state of Colorado.”

The VAFB Hot Shots crew will likely be assigned to the Waldo Canyon fire. As the fire rages in Colorado Springs, engulfing more than 15,517 acres, many military bases and residential areas are in danger and facing mandatory evacuation.

The California hot shots crew has been explicitly trained to save structures, not just to extinguish the flames.

“When a building or community faces a wildfire danger, we use structure triage,” said Jesse Hendricks, the Vandenberg Hot Shots superintendent. “First we remove any fuel source, like trees or shrubbery, from around the home using hand tools. Once we’ve created an area clear of fuels, we actually burn a fire around the structure that will carry the initial fire away from the homes.”

Vandenberg’s Hot Shots are going into this inferno mentally and physically prepared.

“We all got into the mindset that this is going to be a nasty situation,” Hendricks said. “We understand fatigue will be a factor, so we will hydrate and get as much sleep as we can before getting to Colorado. When we go into any wildfire we try to relate it to our ‘mental slides,’ meaning that we recall similar wildfires and pull from those lessons learned so that we will be more effective.”

Vandenberg AFB’s fire chief said he feels confident that this hot shots crew will prove to be a valuable asset to the containment of the Colorado wildfire.

“Thousands of people and homes are threatened, but the most skilled DOD wild land firefighters are being deployed,” he said. “Our hot shots are difference makers, having saved this base numerous times, our surrounding communities and now Colorado Springs.”

The March Team crew composition was comprised of, Lt. Cols. Joseph Sullivan, Thomas Noble, Jose Hoffman and Master Sgts. Frederic Fowler and Geoffrey Parish.

Darnell Gardner, 452 AMW public affairs, contributed to this article.




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