Hotchkiss firefighters return from third national deployment

By Pat Sunderland

Through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a state-to-state method of sharing resources, Hotchkiss firefighters have been deployed to Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and California this year.

Recently, four crew members from the Hotchkiss Fire District helped with firefighting efforts in northern California. Wyatt Wilson, Sam Carle and John Tujague manned a Type 3 engine; Doug Fritz, chief, was a strike team leader. The men were gone for nine days.

They first headed to Encino, near Los Angeles, where firefighting resources were being mobilized. Their crew became part of a team of five Type 3 brush trucks. Altogether, Fritz said, Colorado sent 22 trucks to the scene.

"Cal Fire pretty much invented the command system," Fritz said. "They are top notch, very professional."

In just a few hours, the Colorado trucks were deployed to a camp at Santa Rosa, where they relieved southern California firefighters, so they could get back home to provide coverage there.

Fritz said the Colorado crews worked the forest to the east of Geyserville, Calif. According to the Cal Fire website, the Pocket Fire started at about 3:30 a.m. Oct. 9 and destroyed 17,357 acres. On Oct. 30, it was reported 99 percent contained. "The destruction was unfathomable," Fritz said.

The Hotchkiss Fire District was previously deployed to Kansas and Oklahoma in March, and spent 18 days on the Miller Complex Fire on the California-Oregon border for 18 days.

Fritz finds it ironic that he hasn't fought a wildfire in his own district, but stresses that "our communities are not immune to this kind of fire."

In 2016, Fritz said the Hotchkiss crew was also deployed three times. "Maybe we're done for the year," he commented.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact also coordinates response from medical professionals, law enforcement, public health, animal health, public works, telecommunications, and search and rescue.