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BF firefighters battle California fires

On Aug. 11, the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District deployed four firefighters and one fire engine to help fight wildfires in Willow Creek, California. Of the first four firefighters deployed, firefighter/EMT David Schlingmann and firefight/EMT Mike Skeldum stayed two weeks, returning Aug. 28. The remaining two firefighters, firefighter/EMT Mike Cobb and firefighter/paramedic Stephen Shelters, were joined that same day by Lt. Jamal Davis and firefighter Matt Chaston. Cobb, Shelters, Davis, Chaston and the fire engine returned Sept. 13.Gary Watson, Black Forest fire department public information officer, said all the firefighters deployed volunteered to help. ìAbout 65 percent of the calls here at Black Forest Fire Rescue are medical,î Watson said. ìWe average about two calls per day. The guys here are doing training every day, but this was a chance to do hands-on training with an actual fire, rather than going on some more medical calls.îDavis said the deployment was an opportunity to learn and grow, not only personally and professionally as an individual, but also to bring back lessons to make the department better as a whole. ìWe learned a lot of strategy and tactics, as far as wildland firefighting is concerned,î he said. ìWe were not lacking strategy or tactics, but there is more than one way to do things. There is a difference between the didactic portion in the classroom and actually doing it. To be able to get that field experience, you cannot put a price tag on those lessons learned in that type of experience.îA typical day for the firefighters started at 5:30 a.m., Davis said. A daily briefing started at 6 a.m., and then the firefighters would break into division and task force groups before eating a quick 10-minute breakfast, he said. The drive out to the assigned area took about 45 to 90 minutes, Davis said. They returned to their camp by 7 or 8 p.m., with enough time to make a few phone calls before lights out at 10 p.m., he said. The next day, they did it all over again.Skeldum said his first deployment to another state to fight a fire has been a great experience, especially working on different terrain and cooperating with other departments as they all fought the fires.Davis said the nation banded together to send firefighters to California to help. ìThey came from not only the western portion of the United States but from places like West Virginia,î he said. ìThe egos and territorial stuff that can happen was not there. Everyone came together for a common mission, and that was great to see.îBack home, the firefighters pulled together to make sure the deployments did not affect the community they serve. Other firefighters in the department who did not deploy stepped up to fill the staffing gaps, Davis said.The firefighters also rallied to help deployed firefightersí families. Skeldum said his colleagues in Black Forest helped his wife manage their three children, even picking up their son from school.”All in all, the deployment has made us better individually and as a department, which in turn makes us better able to serve our neighbors here in Black Forest,î Davis said.

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