Firefighters return from North Carolina blaze
East Fork Fire and Paramedic District Battalion Chief Scott Fraser and captains John Brawley and Tracy Connelly returned home tired and happy to see their loved ones last week after spending two weeks fighting raging blazes in the heavily forested mountains of North Carolina.
The three deployed to Cherokee, N.C., with the other 14 members of the Sierra Front Incident Management Team on Nov. 13. After staging in Johnson City, Tenn., they headed out to defend part of the Qualla Boundary, which serves as the border of territory purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 1870 and placed under federal protection.
The Sierra Front Incident Management Team is made of state and federal cooperators including East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts, U.S. Forest Service, Sparks Fire Department, Truckee Meadows Fire Department and retired fire fighters. Ron Haskins, retired East Fork Battalion Chief also accompanied the Sierra Front team.
This is the first time these three firefighters have been out with the Sierra Front team, however each of them have served a number of times as individual contributors over the past year.
Brawley said while the trio worked up to 16 hours a day for 14 days in North Carolina, their absence was felt back at home between family and co-workers. Other firefighters had to work overtime to cover the three open positions in their absence and they didn’t spend Thanksgiving with family and friends.
“It was tough for us being away from our families,” Brawley said. “The Cherokee, N.C., community was extremely welcoming and open. We had many dinners at the community center, even Thanksgiving dinner. They made us feel at home, even though we weren’t.”
Paul Azevedo, president of the East Fork Professional Firefighters Local 3726, said sending district personnel to fight fires out of region serves many purposes, from training opportunities to revenue generation for the district.
“Our goal is always to help out in a time of need, whether it be here locally or nationally,” Azevedo said. “This was a rare opportunity for our guys. Here on the west coast we are used to multiple big fires burning at the same time, but over there it never happens to the scale they are experiencing. Fighting fires off district allows us to build relationships and learn important skills we can bring back home to Douglas County. The experience we gain is immeasurable.”
As for Brawley, Fraser and Connelly, it’s business as usual.
“The Qualla Boundary fire was 95 percent contained at the end of our run,” he said. “Crews from around the country were flying in as we were leaving. We just ran out of time.”