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Navy firefighters define brotherhood

By KASSIE KORICH

Editor

The seven Navy Region Northwest firefighters who responded to the California wildfires could hardly believe their eyes as they flew over a massive red glow of flames.

“The whole episode came together when we were flying over and the pilot pointed out the fires,” said Tim Crosby, Navy Region Northwest Fire and Emergency Services firefighter/driver and operator, assigned to Naval Base Kitsap. “Pictures and movies didn’t come close to the picture there. There were spot fires from LA to San Diego.”

During the first couple days of their week-long stay in late October in the fire-ravaged area, the air was just as bad.

“The first two days, it was smoky and ash was falling. It was like Mount St. Helens,” Crosby explained.

Although the crew didn’t see any time on the fire lines, they served another important role: filling in at the Navy Region Southwest Fire and Emergency Services stations left vacant by firefighters battling the flames.

“I knew we needed firefighters to backfill, I was looking for personnel,” said Navy Region Northwest Fire Chief John Arruda.

“We worked seven days straight,” said Naval Base Kitsap firefighter Jeffrey Rye. “We were there to help with whatever they needed.”

Rye said he will always remember the camaraderie they were welcomed with.

“They welcomed us with open arms,” he said.

“You talk about brotherhood, it was awesome,” Crosby added.

The crew responded to a variety of calls including EMS (emergency medical services), hazardous materials and an office fire among many others. One of the challenges of responding to calls in an unfamiliar area was actually getting there, according to Crosby.

“We were driving blind,” he said.

Many of the Navy Region Southwest firefighters had not seen their families for several days and some couldn’t return to their homes which were located in the evacuated areas. Fortunately, they were all in constant communication with their families, according to Crosby.

Those Navy Region Southwest firefighters who did respond to the fire lines returned with stories describing the destroyed areas.

“They came back and said it was worse than the Cedar Creek fire,” Crosby said. “They said the devastation was amazing.”

For Arruda, who used to fight wildfires in the Southern California area 20 years ago, it was a trip back in time, despite how much the area has changed.

“I used to chase the brush fires,” he said with a smile. “It was nice to see people I used to work for and to see what they’ve achieved in their careers.”

As for the trip down there, Arruda says he and his crew were just happy to help.

“Everyone who went down there and supported this, I’m thankful for everything they did and I’m thankful we were able to provide support to that region,” he said.

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