California firefighters battle fatigue

June 23, 2008 10:15:03 PM PDT
Firefighters all over the state are already being pushed to the limit, and the fire season has barely started. Conditions in Northern California are as dry now as they usually are in late summer. ABC7 spent some time with firefighters Monday to see how they're dealing with the hours, the heat and the hassle of jumping from one fire to the next.

One Los Angeles County firefighter we encountered didn't want to stop to talk to anyone. He was busy trying to make sure the Santa Clara County Whitehurst fire doesn't flare up again. He, and hundreds of firefighters like him, have been battling fatigue as well as flames for the past month all over Northern California.

"The first night was pretty rough," says Sonoma County Fire Captain Trevor Littleton.

Littleton has been working non-stop and with very little sleep since a fire broke out in Napa County on Saturday.

"About six hours in about 36 hours," says Littleton.

Littleton says firefighters have been trained to know their limits and how not to exceed them.

"Sometimes you have to know when to slow down a little, take a breather. You can't go 100 miles an hour the whole time, otherwise you'll crash," says Littleton.

Firefighters like Captain Littleton have been putting out fires county by county for the past two months. They take naps and rest when they can.

"I really can't remember what time we got here,"

Firefighters admit, after a while, these fires can look much the same to crews trying to put them out.

Many of these firefighters never know how long their shifts will last. A 24-hour shift could turn into two days.

"You have to know mentally going into it, that you have to be strong and you have to prepare yourself for it," says firefighter Eric Crum.

Their command staff makes sure the firefighters are well fed and get plenty of water, especially in high temperatures. Chiefs also look for warning signs that perhaps the destruction and carnage associated with some fires may be too much to handle.

"Some of the warning signs might be someone who is a little quiet, despondent, not communicating like they normally do," says El Dorado Asst. Fire Chief Mark Johnson.

Johnson says talking things over as part of a group usually helps firefighters deal with the tough assignments. It's something they may do a lot as the fire season shows little sign of getting any better.

MAP: Google Reference Map of California Fires
(From the Governor's Office of Emergency Services).


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