Monday, July 22, 2013

Stuck In Staging Blues

Stuck in staging. It's happened to most of us over the years. I know that I spent considerable time in staging over the years, back in the day when I rode the big red trucks. I thought my days in the purgatory like status were through, that is until last week.

I made arrangements to meet with a couple of chief officers who were assigned to the Mountain Fire, which has been burning in our county for the past week. These officers were assigned as Strike Team Leaders, (STLs) officers in charge of five engines that operate together as more or less as a unit.

The Mountain fire had gotten pretty big as far as fires around here go. It was at that time around 26,000 acres and had around 3000 firefighters assigned to it. I made arrangements to accompany the STLs as they supervised their engine company's during the shift.

As always, click on the image for better resolution.

 I ran into this crew on my way into base camp. They were happy
as they were beginning a rest period. They were headed to a 
motel in Hemet to get some much needed sleep.

My objective was to shoot the crews as they performed relatively low-risk operations such as overhaul and extinguishing any hot spots that may flare up near the control line. I called my contacts as I entered base and found out that they were in staging. I met up with them and then went to the Information Unit trailer.

There, I met with a deputy PIO and explained to her who I was and why I was there. After assuring her that I had the appropriate safety gear and that my instinct of self-preservation is very strong, she got me set up with an incident map and the current Incident Action Plan (IAP). I then walked back through camp to the strike team, which was still in staging.

Base, is kind of like a small city. It is a temporary facility designed to provide logistical support to the entire incident and usually provides command and control facilities as well. Everything that you do on a daily basis usually needs to be done on these major incidents as well.

 Mobile Shower Units. Hot water, soap and everything.

Sleeping, eating, showers, laundry, communications, sanitation/hygiene, tools and equipment and vehicle parking to name a few plus all of the incident command and control support functions. As I walked through camp, it reminded me of how though each camp is different, they are all the same.

 Three thousand people can generate a lot of trash.

Although there was activity in base camp, there wasn't as much as you would expect. The crews that were assigned were out working, the crews that were unavailable were resting, either at area hotels, in sleeping units or in tents. The units that were staged, were all hanging out by their units. Most of the visible activity was logistical in nature and being done by contractors or California Conservation Corps (CCC) members. I am quite sure that there was a great deal of activity going on in the various unit trailers and tents, but they were invisible to me.

 Verizon had this charging station set up. If the firefighters had
forgotten their chargers, they could get their phones charged here.

After making my way back to the staging area, I chatted with the STL that I was to be  with for the day. We caught up on some happenings and he showed me some Cel-Phone photos that he had gotten when they had first arrived at the fire. They were pretty impressive - real flames to the left, flames to the right kind of shots. Though I didn't expect any of those kind of shots on that day, I still wanted to get some shots of the crews working and of the STL being chiefly.

 Part of the staging area. The white Yukon and the first five
engines were where my hopes laid. Units were from March Air
Reserve Base, Riverside (2), Palm Springs and Corona. The 
blue tinted mountains in the background used to be green.

It was not to be. Much like the poor EMT students that used to get stuck at my station and not get a real call, my strike team didn't turn a wheel. We sat in staging all day, baking in the hot sun. I must admit that I still had a great time, there were two engines in the strike team from my agency and it was really nice visiting with the crews. The other three engines were from nearby agencies and although I didn't know them, we had friends and acquaintances in common and had common interests.

 The time spent in staging can be used to
go over some training items, catch up on
paperwork and maintain equipment.

Or, when you are caught up, get some much needed sleep. Hint -
when driving around base camp, always look out for people 
sleeping on the ground. It's always a good idea to look under
the rig before moving it as well. You just never know where people
are going to try to get come sleep.

It was not a bad way to spend the day. I found out that I had actually taken photos of one of the Palm Springs guys, he had been in the Honor Guard at Los Alamitos. Small world.

Around dinner time, I decided that It was time to move on. I said goodby to the crews and headed up to Lake Hemet, a nearby resort. I wanted to get some photos of the helicopters snorkeling water out of the lake and of the smoke plume drifting into the west. I'm glad I did, it gave me an opportunity to take photos, the real reason for my trip into the forest.

 The guy with the Mic is Chuck Henry. He anchored the 5 and
6 PM news from the fire. Chuck is with the L.A. NBC affiliate.
I watched for a while, the guy is the consummate pro. He has 
been with KNBC for ever. 

There was a bunch of media all parked in front of the entrance to Lake Hemet. I stopped to take a few pictures of the media in action, though I try not to use flash. I found out the hard way once, it pisses them off. However, if they are on the fire side of the rigs, flash is on. 

The smoke was drifting to the west, eventually passing in front of the sun. It gave everything a golden tint.

The helicopters had been working all day, though none close enough to base camp for me to take any interesting photos. The larger helicopters were loading water from the lake, I was able to get close enough for some images.

A Sikorsky Skycrane approaches Lake Hemet in front of
a smoke obscured sun.

I wasn't the only one there to observe the loading operations,
These kids really enjoyed the show.

Although I have seen these Viet Nam war era helicopters work 
many times, I am still fascinated by them. It takes them around
 a minute to load 2600 gallons of water.

As the sun got lower, the smoke thickened and the colors changed to a more reddish tint. I wonder if the pilot noticed the beauty of the smoke induced hues. I know I did.

 From an action photography standpoint, the day was kind of a bust. I did get to take some pictures though, I really enjoyed my time at Lake Hemet with the color, families and the helicopters. I also got to spend some time with people I don't get to see that often and I met some new people.  So though I was stuck in staging, it was a pretty damn good day.

Thanks for reading,

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