From Ojai to Normal Heights, from Baldwin Hills to Riverside and Palm Springs, Southern California firefighters have put their lives on the line to protect their communities this week. The work is long, hot, wet and dirty. But it is also one of the highest forms of public service in the truest sense of those words.
In each major Southern California jurisdiction, from Ventura County to San Diego County, firefighters are stretched thin. But they nonetheless go to the aid of neighboring communities when they can. For example, the Los Angeles City Fire Department has sent four strike teams--meaning about 100 people--to help fight the Ojai blaze. To maintain full strength, it pulled back to duty about 100 people from vacation, hired extra helicopter pilots and even threw fire-prevention staff members who had been trained as firefighters into Baldwin Hills duty. It has crews on alert constantly in the hazardous brushland around the city.
Firefighters have to make tough decisions. They may have to pass up one house completely in order to save another and prevent a blaze from spreading, causing an even bigger disaster. They not only must get fires under control, they also must stay on in the area to make sure that the smoldering fires stay controlled. And, in addition to knowing how best to fight fires, they must rescue the frightened, comfort the devastated and deal with the enraged.
Fighting fires is hard work. It is also work that the people of Southern California could not live without.