Three Roanoke County firefighters are bringing back new experience after helping battle the deadly wildfires in California.
The raging wildfires in California have burned nearly 600 square miles, which is more than double the size of Roanoke County.
The fires are so bad firefighters from all over have been sent to help including a local crew from Virginia.
3 men from @RoCoFireRescue recently went to California to help battle wildfires. I caught up with them today to hear about their experiences. @WFXRnews pic.twitter.com/CUK3v5I1XZ— Eric Pointer WFXR (@EricPointerWFXR) August 17, 2018
“I was very excited. It’s something, not a childhood dream, but definitely, a dream to go,” said Roanoke County Firefighter EMT Paul Kipley.
Kipley and two others from Roanoke County Fire and Rescue were part of the Virginia task force, thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
“They recognize that our firefighters are very good at doing wild wind firefighting. We live in the mountains, we’re used to fighting fires in the mountains,” said Fire Chief Stephen Simon.
Chief Simon says they were the only crews from the east coast and while he’s proud of his crew, he still worried about them while they were out on what turned into a deadly mission.
“We had a firefighter fatality our third day there, not in our group but on the fire,” Kipley said.
“Where a treetop fell out and hit a young man and that was it. No warning. He’d just gotten off the truck starting their assignment for the day.”
No one from the Roanoke crew that went was injured, and Fire Captain Charlie Rucker who went, says he was grateful to be there to help people in a different state
“Obviously part of my job as a fireman for the county, in particular, an officer, is it doesn’t matter who it is, you’re still trying to do good. Make good decisions, do the right things for whomever,” said Rucker.
While they were out in California, the firefighters were able to bring back experience that would help in Roanoke County.
“I got to see a lot of new tactics that I’d read about or seen pictures. You kind of know what’s going on, but to see it first-hand puts it in a new perspective,” Kipley said.
Paramedic firefighter Michael Dunn also went on the trip and he says he hopes to go back and go out to other locations.
“The citizens of California got some help that they needed and the citizen of Roanoke got some training for their own people, so I think it worked out for everyone,” said Dunn.
The chief says they have two more firefighters in California right now with another crew, who will bring back even more experience.
They have been partners with the U.S. Forest Service for years, but the chief says this is the first time they’ve had crews go further than the east coast.