Fighting the wild

Capt. Frank Garrison

Photo by Tang Lor

When wildfires swept through Southern California, several firefighters from the area responded. Capt. Frank Garrison, a 27-year veteran, jumped at the opportunity to help repay those from the San Diego area who have helped with fires up here. He was among 14 firefighters from Butte County who went to help control the blaze. The Rice Fire, which Garrison helped fight, charred 10,000 acres before it was contained.

Did you volunteer to go to Southern California?

In a way, yes. The opportunity came up, and we [the Chico Fire Department] kind of have a rotation system for choosing overtime. My name came up and I jumped at the chance.

How was it down there?

I won’t say it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance or experience ‘cause we do have the same similar type of instances up here with high wind, brush fire and quite a few houses built into the [wild land], but it rains a little different and the winds were very, very extreme. You know, 70- to 80-mile-an-hour wind. In the initial phase of what we were doing down there, the fire was starting way ahead of itself. It was pretty interesting from that perspective. After the winds died down it was more of a hold-the-line operation.

What were your responsibilities?

We went down with a strike team of five engines from Butte County and we were assigned an area in a housing development in the south of Fallbrook on the Rice Fire. We stood by as the fire pretty much burned around us and our job was to kind of direct the fire around the houses to keep them from burning.

How long were you there?

We were down there a total of seven days. And that included working a 24 hours on and 24 hours off type of a schedule, with the first couple of days being no days off. Just the first couple of days were pretty extreme in that there weren’t a lot of resources. We weren’t all quite set up all the way yet. We had to live on sack lunches and sleeping on the driveways and stuff. But you know that’s one of the things you expect to do, and we’re prepared to be out there for about 72 hours without any backup as far as food and different things like that.

How has this experience made you look at your career?

Actually it was one of the, if you will, boxes that I wanted to check off. I’ve had a long and good career, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to go down to Southern California for one of these incidents. It’s just one of those things that you want to be able to do.