Fighting the Flames


photo courtesy of locals near fire

Firemen in a neighborhood that was burnt and continue to put out the remaining flames.

Sarah Lemos, Photojournalist

In the past few weeks, multiple wildfires have started all over California. Some good news was brought to locals knowing that the fires were contained. There are over 8,400 firemen working on this blaze. There’s nothing great about having to confront the flames, but firefighters always do. They are working hard to keep everyone safe, but the death toll has risen to 88 and over 500 people are still missing. Some people say that toll will continue to rise and some people don’t even realize they’re missing. Recently, Albert Periquet, fireman who had just gotten back from the fires has agreed to answer some questions.

1Q. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve come across on the job?
1A. The biggest challenge is being able to work with a variety of different people together as a team.  All of us come from different backgrounds which makes the fire department a unique place to work. We have different educational, cultural, socio-economic, religious, and employment experiences.  So, when we come across a problem, there are many ways to solve them. Being able to work together to accomplish the same goal is not always easy. The challenge is solving problems as a cohesive unit despite our differences.

2Q. What was the toughest part of being a firefighter?

2A. The toughest part of being a firefighter is the lack of sleep.  We work 24-hour shifts, and sometimes we are busy the entire 24 hours.  Not having enough sleep can lead to many problems, which can cause mistakes in judgment and potentially harm our patients and co-workers.  The long term effects can also lead to other medical problems such as heart conditions, high blood pressure, and increased stress. For this reason, we are allotted an hour each day to exercise and stay fit, which can counteract some of these medical issues.


3Q. Do you think the fires will be controlled before next month?
3A. Fires in Southern California are affected by low relative humidity, wind events (Santa Ana winds), and plenty of dry fuel (brush).  Unfortunately, October through December are usually the time of the year when we have strong wind events, known as Santa Ana Winds, which can push fire rapidly.  As you saw last week, the fires which began in Thousand Oaks quickly reached Malibu and caused massive destruction. The containment for this fire, known as the Woolsey Fire, is now 100% contained.  However, the threat of more fires in the future is always there.


4Q. What is an important trait a firefighter must possess?
4A. A firefighter must possess many traits to be successful, but one of the most important is to have a great, positive attitude.  We are asked to perform many demanding tasks, and having a positive attitude will make it more enjoyable and rewarding. For example, we are expected to clean the fire station every day.  We have to take out the trash, vacuum the floors, and scrub the toilets. We take pride in having a clean fire station. If you don’t like to clean and have a bad attitude about it, this will reflect poorly among your co-workers and supervisor.  They will perceive you as lazy and not having any pride. Conversely, having a good attitude about all aspects of your job will carry over into fighting structure fires, going on two week deployments on a brush fire, and caring for sick and ill patients.


5Q. Do you stop what you’re doing sometimes to help wildlife?
5A. Helping wildlife is also part of our job.  Many people have pets which they love just like family members.  If we can save wildlife and pets which are in immediate danger, we will definitely try.  However, we assess the risk versus gain. If saving an animal will put our lives in immediate danger, we will reconsider our decision.  We’ve been asked to rescue a cat out a tree many times. However, most cats will be able to crawl down a tree on their own without any difficulty.  We have rescued cats and dogs stuck in car engines, walls of homes, or drainage ditches. We also have rescued many horses who have fallen or have gotten stuck in precarious situations.  

6Q. What’s it like to go out and be right by the fire?
6A. Brush fires are very dangerous and can be unpredictable.  Sometimes, they create their own wind from the high heat temperatures, and it can change direction quickly.  Also, steep terrain can cause the fire to spread quickly versus flat land. Fires are hot and you can get seriously burned and die.  The smoke is so thick at times, you can hardly breathe or see. There is nothing glamorous about being close to a brush fire. For these reasons, we must always be aware of our situation and have a flexible plan in action.

7Q. What’s the scariest thing about going to the fires?

7A. The scariest thing about going to any fire is the possibility of getting seriously hurt or dying a horrible death, and never being able to see our families again.  Many of us have had friends and co-workers who have been seriously hurt, burned, and died while fighting fires. The work we do is extremely hazardous, which is why we are constantly training and educating ourselves on how to fight fires.  There is actually a science to it and many effective strategies to what we do. It’s much more than simply pouring water onto the hot flames.

8Q. Are there any charities people could donate to help that you know of?

8A. There are numerous local charities people can donate to regarding firefighter causes.  Here are some of them: Firefighter Cancer Support Network (Cancer), County of Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association (Sickness and Death), Los Angeles County Benefit and Relief Association (Medical Equipment)

9Q. what are some ways to help prevent fires?
9A. There are many ways to help prevent fires.  Obviously, don’t play with matches and be smart about open flames.  For example, if you are considering starting a campfire in a heavily forested area with plenty of dry brush around, don’t do it!  Fireworks any time of the year can cause destructive fires, so be safe and sane about it. Remember, fire factors include fuel, heat, oxygen, and an ignition source.  If you take any of those factors away, you can prevent fires.


10Q. If you want to say anything else you can. Like what’s your favorite about being a fireman or just like anything really.
10A.  Every day is different in the fire service.  We get to be outdoors and you never know what to expect.  One day you might be saving a drowning child, and the next minute you’ll be running into a burning building ready to collapse.  The next shift you might be going over the side of a steep cliff rescuing a busload of severely injured people, and the next hour you’ll be gone on a brush fire for two weeks in Northern California.  Also, the camaraderie and friendships you make in a 30 year career can last a lifetime. We learn to trust each other and rely on our firefighting brothers and sisters to help us in good times and in bad times.  It is truly a family, which just happens to be at a place we call our Fire House.