Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: TRACEN Petaluma Fire Dept. Engine 9862

Chief Petty Officer Nathan Mahoney, firefighter James Jeffers and Fire Capt. Chad Davis stand for a photo in front of Training Center Petaluma's Fire Department Engine 9862. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Chief Petty Officer Nathan Mahoney, firefighter James Jeffers and Fire Capt. Chad Davis stand for a photo in front of Training Center Petaluma’s Fire Department Engine 9862. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Lt. Erin Chlum

As Coast Guardsmen, we are trained and are always prepared to respond to emergency situations, but it’s rare that we’re called into action to fight what is being described as one of the worst wildland fires in the last 15 years. That is just what Fire Capt. Chad Davis, firefighter James Jeffers and Chief Petty Officer Nathan Mahoney did from July 29-August 5, as they, along with thousands of other firefighters, battled the Rocky Fire in Northern California.

As a large, 830 acre military installation, Training Center (TRACEN) Petaluma is home to a fire department consisting of 10 full-time civilian firefighters who are supplemented by 15 active duty members who stand watch as trained auxiliary firefighters. TRACEN Petaluma is remotely located which enables the fire and police departments on base to reach many emergencies before any municipal first responders. Because of this, the base has mutual aid agreements that allow the Coast Guard to respond to emergencies in the local area and ensure the TRACEN receives assistance from other departments in case of an emergency on base.

The TRACEN’s mutual aid agreements with Sonoma and Marin Counties enable Cal Fire to request the TRACEN’s assistance. On July 29 when the Rocky Fire initially broke out, Cal Fire requested a strike team of five engines, which included Coast Guard Engine 9862. Once the request was made, the team of firefighters was on the road traveling the 75 miles north to the fire within four hours.

Upon arriving on scene, Davis, Jeffers and Mahoney initially assisted with the evacuation of nearly 12,000 nearby residents and laid over 4,000 feet of hose to help reach the flanks of the fire. The team also ensured hot spots were fully extinguished and did not reignite. Over the course of the week on scene, the team worked 24-hour shifts sleeping in a large trailer at “base camp.”

Training Center Petaluma Fire Department Engine 9862 battle the Rocky Fire, a wildland fire, in Northern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Training Center Petaluma Fire Department Engine 9862 battle the Rocky Fire, a wildland fire, in Northern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Mahoney described the response as a very unique experience.

“It was inspiring to see so many departments from a wide-spread area all converge to help fight a single fire,” said Mahoney. “We saw departments from as far away as Los Angeles.”

He described the appreciation from those who live in the area as a highlight of his experience.

“Whether it was signs on the side of the road that said ‘thank you firefighters’ or people trying to buy frozen yogurt for the entire strike team, the gratitude was overwhelming.”

To prepare for the California wildland fire season, the fire department participates in a series of exercises to become Red Card, or wildland firefighting, certified. This training consists of approximately 24 hours of classes and hands-on training to learn to use hand tools, perform progressive hose lays, deploy a shelter and a pack test to measure physical fitness. Additionally, numerous members of the fire department dedicated many Saturdays attending Fire Training Academy focusing on wildland fires in order to prepare for these scenarios.

“Training prepared us for what we’d see, but nothing could physically prepare us for the intense labor and exhaustion,” stated Mahoney.

Each year TRACEN Petaluma prepares for and responds to numerous wildland fires. Earlier in July, the fire and police departments responded to a brush fire across the street from the TRACEN containing the fire before it became out of control. In 2014, the TRACEN Petaluma Fire Department responded to 19 wildland and vegetation fires in the local area and stands ready to help battle these devastating blazes.

Training Center Petaluma Fire Department Engine 9862 work with Cal Fire to battle the Rocky Fire in Northern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Training Center Petaluma Fire Department Engine 9862 work with Cal Fire to battle the Rocky Fire in Northern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Davis has been a firefighter at TRACEN for 22 years, first as a damage controlman and continuing as a civilian. Jeffers has 15 years of firefighting experience having come to TRACEN just over a year ago while Mahoney, an information systems technician, serves at Electronics Support Detachment Petaluma and has been a volunteer with the fire department since February 2014.

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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