LA CERT at Catalina Island Fire - May, 2007
CERT-LA Called in for Assistance in the Avalon/Catalina Fire
By Jose L. Ramos & Katy Carlson
Fire breaks out on the Island of Catalina! The cause? It doesn't matter; when a brush fire appears on your horizon, you don't care how it started; you just care what will happen to you and your loved ones. So, are you prepared for a disaster if you had to leave at a moment's notice? Well, the people of Catalina Island had to answer that question when the fire broke out and the order was given to evacuate.
So, where does CERT-LA fit into this picture? Well, fire equipment and personnel were being shipped over to the island to help fight the fire and protect structures from the flames. But what about the people left on the island? That's where Community Emergency Response Team members come into play. Los Angeles County Fire Department was already on the island, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department put out a call for mutual assistance, and that means that L.A. City Fire Department's CERT teams were going to help and provide our assistance with the human factor on the island.
Being "called-out" means that you are needed NOW, and you have a short window of time to prepare yourself, your gear, and your family for your departure; then, off you go. So, two of your Harbor Gateway South CERT members, along with other L.A. City CERT team members, were called on Friday morning (May 11, 2007) to Long Beach Harbor to board a hovercraft-type boat to the island for a minimum of a 24-hour deployment. We stood on a cloud of air with other emergency personnel, equipment, and lots of anticipation of what we would find once we got there.
Once we arrived on the island, the mission became clear to us. Unload all the supplies and gear we brought so that it could be put to good use. We were fortunate that the locals who were waiting to leave pitched in to help so that we could have a human assembly line to unload (as seen in the photo below). Then, we had to relieve the island's CERT team members who had been "on" since the fire's inception nearly 24 hours earlier. We monitored the town of Avalon, and made sure that the residents knew of the evacuation orders and where they could go to get off the island, if needed. We were on stand-by for a major evacuation order if the fires shifted toward the town of Avalon; thankfully this order was not needed. Because of the work of the firefighters, including an aerial assault, the town was spared major damage. This could be due to the vast water supply around the island which made refilling faster for some of the firefighting helicopters. (Photos below)
So, as evening approached, we set up an emergency shelter for those residents left on the island in the historic casino building on the island, so that people would have a safe place to stay - out of harm's way, which was clean, well-supplied and calm. Being sure to set up places to sleep, food and beverages, sign-in sheets (to keep track of those who would need shelter), and making sure all the facilities were in working order was of the utmost importance. It was fortunate that no one needed the use of the shelter, but it was available for them, just in case.
All night long, we kept near the emergency radios if anything changed and we were needed in another capacity. Sleep was a luxury we didn't have much of. As morning came, we realized that the fire was heading away from the town, and residents were safe. We were then told to clean up and prepare to return to the boats for our ride back to the mainland on Saturday afternoon (May 12, 2007). We said good-bye to our teammates, who seemed more like family now that we had spent an extraordinary experience with for the past 24 hours. We seemed to have lost our modesty and shyness, because we needed each other, we relied on each other and our CERT training, and now we know it was all worth it. When we returned home, we unloaded our gear, and re-stocked our supplies in case we were needed again. Finally, a nap! We felt it was an honor to have been called. We believe this is first time CERT was activated and transported to a fire. We were called a Core Team.
But, what about you??? What would you take with you if you were given 15 minutes to leave your home, not to know when or if you would return or if your home would be standing if you got the chance to go back? Do you have a minimum of supplies, like water, food, cash, important papers, keepsakes that cannot be replaced, clothing, shoes, medication, and contact information for relatives? What about your pet, if you have one, do you have what they would need, too? It may seem trivial to you now, but then again, looking at the faces of the people on Avalon and talking to them, they didn't think they would ever have to leave their homes for something like this either. So, are you and your loved ones prepared? Maybe you should look around your home and see what items you would want with you and get a bag ready of emergency supplies that you can grab at a moment's notice. These questions and so many more are why we cannot stress enough the importance of taking a CERT class and being prepared for any unexpected emergency situation.
LA City and County CERT at Catalina.
Locals help LA CERT create a human assembly line to unload cargo on the island upon arrival.
Aerial assault by water-dropping helicopters on the fire that was threatening Avalon.
Helicopter picking up water to make a quick return to the firefighting efforts.
The LA CERT crew before heading home, a job well done!