Berthoud firefighters take on wildfires across the country
By Amber McIver-Traywick
The death toll for California’s worst-ever wildfire has reached 85 people with nearly 300 still unaccounted for and more than 14,000 homes destroyed. The Camp Fire, which officials say as of Nov. 25 is now completely contained, is a catastrophic reminder of the almost unimaginable power fire has to completely consume everything and everyone in its path. While most hope and pray they never experience anything close to the fires that have plagued states like California and Colorado this year, there are some, like the men and women of the Berthoud Fire Protection District’s (BFPD) wildland fire crew, who anticipate the opportunity, when fires do inevitably happen, to face off with one of nature’s most powerful forces with the singular goal of protecting homes and lives.
According to BFPD’s public information officer, May Soricelli, this year alone BFPD wildland crews responded to around 25 fires in three states with 18 firefighters deploying to assist in the efforts.
Two of those firefighters are Captain Nico Romero and Lieutenant Nathan Aldersea. The two men have combined
While talking to Romero and Aldersea you quickly realize both men are passionate about what they do, particularly when talking about fighting wildfires. “It’s a totally different experience than what we do around here – it’s cool being able to travel around the country. The big thing is getting that experience and an understanding of how the big incident-management teams work. It’s all super beneficial information that we’re able to bring back and implement here,” Aldersea said.
BFPD has been fairly unique compared to other fire departments around the country, as nearly every career and reserve firefighter in the department has obtained their Incident Qualification Card or what firefighters call their “Red Card.” This certification enables personnel to work on state- and federally-managed incidents, and it shows the individuals have been thoroughly trained. Wildfires are a very real possibility, living in an area like Larimer County, and Romero commented about the benefit of having such a capable department. “If you’re only trained on house fires you aren’t going to be as effective as you think when everything else around the house is on fire – you want to stop it before it gets to the house.”
When a call comes in that help is needed on a wildfire, BFPD has 30 minutes to confirm they have a crew and equipment committed to
Wildland crews deploy for a minimum of 14 days. Many, like Aldersea and Romero, leave behind spouses and children to go help save other people’s homes and families. Communication back home can be spotty at best with little or no communication for days at a time. Particularly if there has been a major incident or a loss of life, that is sure to make the news, Romero said. “You’ll have bosses that will tell
Wildfires can move between six and 14 miles-per-hour and sometimes, depending on the terrain, even faster. Fires can last from days to weeks, with crews remaining active on the job for 16 to 20 hours at a time. The fires are dangerous and can be unpredictable, quickly shifting and jumping fire breaks, requiring the crews sent to fight them to have both endurance and bravery.
In the case of the Carr Fire, which both Romero and Aldersea traveled to this past summer, the fire would have to be fought after traveling hours down winding dirt roads, many of which were old mining or logging roads or ones that had only recently been bulldozed, to get the engines to where they needed to go. “One mile might take six miles to get where we needed to be, going 10 to15 miles an hour. If something were to go wrong, and a fire didn’t go as expected, it’s just as slow and tedious and dangerous to get back down and out of the way of it,” Romero said.
Earlier in the day Romero had “luckily” exchanged cell phone numbers with a bulldozer operator whom he contacted in a last-ditch effort to find a way out. The dozer operator found a gate and just broke it through. He said, “If you come across a green gate, I’d go through there. I think that’s your best bet.” The gate led to an abandoned mine shaft where Romero estimates close to 100 firefighters took shelter overnight. The next day they were back to work.
Both firefighters are quick to acknowledge stories like that, in all of their years of experience fighting fires, are extremely rare and every precaution is taken to prevent incidents like those from ever happening. However,
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