Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Coast Guard Auxiliary response to the Valley Fire

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary shakes hand with an agency partner from the Red Cross during the Valley Fire response. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary shakes hand with an agency partner from the Red Cross during the Valley Fire response. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Valley Fire, which affected Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties in Northern California, burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures throughout the region from Sept. 12 to Oct. 15, 2015, when it became 100 percent contained.

The disaster, which forced more than 3,000 people to be immediately evacuated from the region, was ranked as the third worst fire in California history.

View of the Valley Fire, which destroyed nearly 77,000 acres in Northern California from Sept. 12, 2015 to Oct. 15, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

View of the Valley Fire, which destroyed nearly 77,000 acres in Northern California from Sept. 12, 2015 to Oct. 15, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Along with area firefighters and emergency medical staff, an additional force answered the call for help as the fire raged on – the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Working alongside various other agencies in the evacuation centers, more than 20 Coast Guard Auxiliary members from Northern California and Nevada came together to support local efforts and assist evacuees throughout the duration of the wild fires.

When called upon to help, each and every member responded with an eagerness to assist those in need, as every Coast Guard Auxiliarist does day in and day out across the nation. Some of the auxiliarists had prior emergency disaster experience, and all were trained on the incident command system, which is used to set up a unified command during emergency situations.

One of these volunteers was Auxiliarist Alexander Urciuoli, who spent three days working long shifts and odd hours to ensure he provided unparalleled support and assistance to the evacuees in the region.

Urciuoli said their job was to work alongside the other agencies, taking phone calls from displaced residents and get answers for the questions they had regarding a variety of issues, to include housing questions, road closure questions or any other questions that the residents had.

“The formal shift was eight [o’clock] in the morning to 8 [o’clock] at night,” Urciuoli said.

Urciuoli credits his experience with the Coast Guard Auxiliary with his ability to immediately fit into the evacuation center and begin taking in information and providing information to those in need.

Residents look over the area destroyed by the Valley Fire, ranked the third worst wild fire in California history. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Residents look over the area destroyed by the Valley Fire, ranked the third worst wild fire in California history. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“You’re getting information from as many sources as you can, often very fast and furious, and then you’re getting that information to the people who need it when they ask you for it, often under very…stressful conditions,” he said. “Particularly like if you’re on a SAR case or something like that.”

Urciuoli, along with the other Auxiliarists, took pride in returning all of the residents’ calls, even if he didn’t have the appropriate information. He said he would simply inform them that their question had been received, and that it had been forwarded to the appropriate agency or department. He said one of the most gratifying experiences for him was how appreciative all the residents were to even get a call, letting them know that their question was being looked into.

“I just feel glad that I was able to do my part,” said Urciuoli.

While responding to wild fires may not be part of the normal Auxiliary duties, one thing remains certain: the flexibility and professionalism demonstrated by these members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary showcased the true meaning of the Coast Guard being ‘Semper Paratus’ to answer calls for help in any circumstance.

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.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary speaks with residents displaced by the Valley Fire. More than 20 members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary assisted with the evacuation centers, providing crucial resources and information to displaced residents. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary speaks with residents displaced by the Valley Fire. More than 20 members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary assisted with the evacuation centers, providing crucial resources and information to displaced residents. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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