Boots on the ground

Rio Hondo College’s Roadrunners Crew 77 combats the Agua Caliente Fire in Palm Springs in July. The group has been called up to fight the Ferguson Fire in Northern California. (Photo: Carlos Flores)

Rio Hondo College’s Roadrunner Crew 77 has been called up for the second time this summer – this time to assist crews battling the massive Ferguson Fire that is threatening Yosemite National Park.

The crew, led by a U.S. Forest Service crew boss, includes 17 recent graduates of the college’s Wildland Fire Academy. The team assists with all aspects of fire monitoring, suppression and control, including digging fire containment lines.

“We are extremely proud of the contributions of our Wildland Fire Academy crew,” said Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss. “They represent the best of Rio Hondo College – students and graduates who are dedicating their careers to helping their communities.”

The crew can be called up for 21 days with each activation. It was activated over the July 4 weekend to assist in battling the Agua Caliente fire in Palm Springs.

This call-up started on July 26 when the crew was activated to cover parts of the Angeles National Forest for crews shifting to fight the Ferguson Fire and other blazes. During the first days of that activation, the Roadrunners helped quash a brushfire. On August 2, the team joined the battle against the Ferguson Fire.

Trained and ready

Each crew member has met or exceeded U.S. Forest Service requirements for seasonal wildland firefighters. Students also must pass an arduous physical fitness regime. Rio Hondo College has fielded the crew since 2002.

“The Angeles National Forest fire chief and his staff are huge supporters of this program where we train students from a diverse group of people to become firefighters,” said Tracy Rickman, coordinator of the fire technology programs at the college.

Lead instructor Ryan Carey, also a wildland fire fighter prior to joining Rio Hondo’s faculty, said the young men and women earn the job – nothing is given.

“You have to want to be gone from family and friends for up to 21 days at a time and sleep under the stars and work hard for a 12-hour operational period putting out a fire,” Carey said. “It’s not for everyone.”

The Ferguson Fire has burned more than 91,000 acres since July 13; it is less than 45 percent contained. More than 2,300 firefighters are engaged. There have been two fatalities, including Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots Capt. Brian Hughes.

Rio Hondo Board President Madeline Shapiro said the entire college community supports the firefighters who represent them.

“They walk an incredibly difficult path for all of the best reasons,” Shapiro said. “It moves all of us to see their dedication as they bravely step into danger to protect our California communities.”

About the Author

Ruthie Retana
is director of marketing and communications at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, California.