When wildfires recently raged in Southern California, and Napa County firefighters began forming Strike Teams to lend their assistance, the students at PUC did not go untouched by the events. Eight Angwin volunteer firefighters, three of whom were PUC students, and two Angwin fire engines joined Napa County strike teams from Calistoga and St. Helena.
Jon Huff, a junior at PUC, went with the Strike Team led by Gary Kraus, chief of the Calistoga Fire Department, and was assigned to the Julian Fire northeast of San Diego. Leo Lutz, senior, and Brandon Craig, sophomore, went to the Old Fire above San Bernardino.
Cassaundra Lutz didn't get much warning about her husband, Leo's, departure for the Old Fire. "He drove by in the fire engine and waved," Cassaundra says. A friend dropped off the Lutz' vehicle and said, "Leo's on his way to San Bernardino."
Not only was the experience rather unexpected, it was also very new for some of the participants. PUC student Brandon Craig hadn't had much fire experience before he went down south with Engine 18; besides his training, he had only been on two fire calls. Fighting the San Bernardino fire was intense. "We worked from Sunday morning to Wednesday night with just a few hours of sleep here and there," Craig says.
"Nothing can really prepare you for it," Leo adds.
When Leo got home, says Cassaundra, "He looked a lot different; he was so tired. I'd talk to him and he'd fall asleep."
Angwin Volunteer Fire Department's assistant chief Ken Trumble, who coordinated the Angwin teams that went down south, also emphasizes the sacrifice made by the firefighters. "They were laying their lives on the line," he says. "I can't stress that enough." He also points out that the Angwin volunteers owe their safe return largely to the Strike Team leaders who led out in this intense experience.
In addition to the physical strain of fighting the fires, there was the thought of all the people who were losing their homes. "When you're pumping water on a burning house," Craig says, "it's rough to think about the people who are going to drive back and see their neighbors' houses and say 'their houses are still standing, mine should be too,' and find out their house is the only one that's gone."
On the other hand, there was the reward of saving some houses. One of the rewards for Leo has been "hearing from people I knew before, and from the friends of people I know now, who live in the actual houses we helped save."
The firefighters also found out how much they were appreciated when they went to Sam's Club to get a few supplies. "It took us 15 minutes to get from the checkout to the door because of all the people coming up to tell us thank you," Craig said. But he added, "None of the firefighters down there were fighting for the recognition. We're just doing our job."