Base IMAs Battle Recent California Wildfires in Their Civilian Lives
By P. A. Tezuka, SMC Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2007
Los Angeles Air Force Base -- October's Southern California fires devastated tens of thousands of acres across Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties. Many people lost their homes, some their lives. Animals perished and trees and vegetation were burnt images of this nightmare.
But, from the gloom, the efforts of those who selflessly responded to the cries for help shined through. Among them were the men and women of the firefighting services. Where hundreds of thousands of people escaped towards safer grounds, firefighters chose to forge into the burning infernal. These were the heroes who risked their lives so the lives of others, properties and nature may be spared.
Two of these heroes call Los Angeles Air Force Base their home away from home. These men continue to answer their calls to service as Individual Mobility Augmentees when they are not at their regular jobs as city firefighters.
Captain Ruben Torres worked at the Space and Missile Systems Center's Launch and Range Systems Wing as the project manager for the Remote Block Change for the Air Force Satellite Control Network, managing both the Guam and Diego Garcia projects. He separated from the Air Force after his deployment to Baghdad during 2005-2006.
"I chose the fire department after the Air Force because it gave me the opportunity to still serve something greater than myself," said Torres. "I love helping others and working with people."
Torres is a native Californian, born and raised in Pico Rivera and currently living in Long Beach. He works for the Los Angeles Fire Department in Highland Park near downtown Los Angeles. During the October wildfire, he and his company were deployed to Malibu for eight days and nights to protect structures from the fire.
Captain Ken Hultgren, who lives in Simi Valley with his wife, Sheri, and their adopted 6-month-old daughter, is a systems engineer and a systems security engineer with SMC's Satellite Control and Network Systems Group. He has been an Air Force Reserve for nine years. While still on active duty with the Air Force, Captain Hultgren volunteered his time as a firefighter.
Since 1997, he has been a firefighter and paramedic with the City of Burbank. He is also an emergency medical technician instructor and one of the fire department's background investigators.
"I have always been in service with the public in some manner," said Hultgren. "I felt it was the best way I could make a difference and in the most direct manner possible," he said regarding his reason for becoming a firefighter.
Hultgren was involved in the "Slide Fire" which was located in the Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead area for 56 hours. His strike team's normal duty is to protect structure, but due to the sparsely spread-out personnel, they battled the fire on hot grounds and steep terrain taking out hot spots to prevent additional breakouts.
"We were used like 'wildland' firefighters using hand tools and small hoses to put out the fire in the forest and mountainous terrain," said Hultgren.
The fire victims' emotions ran high and mixed as resources and response time ran low due to the widely scattered locations of the wildfires. The "Slide Fire" was the last to start and took longer for the firefighters and other emergency crews to reach the area.
"By the time we got there, there were a lot of houses lost," said Hultgren. "Some people threw eggs at some of the firefighters while others were trying to feed us and gave us a place to sleep."
Amidst the wildfires, firefighters were also on call to protect the city and to replace other firefighters out battling the wildfires and other fires within the city. Regular shifts were from 12 to 24 hours but some spent from 72 to 120 hours straight to fill in the gaps for personnel out on the fire scene.
"As soon as I got to my station, a 4-alarm fire broke out just north of the Burbank Airport," said Hultgren. "It was an industrial building and we fought the fire for almost three hours." This fire was over-shadowed by the wildfires and was hardly mentioned by the news services.
Hultgren views being a firefighter like being in the military with its members having a common goal - to fight the fire--their 'enemy.'
"We consider this type of fire our 'combat' and we will work as hard and as long as it takes to get it under control," he said. "The fire service has been a 'Brotherhood' for a long time, not to exclude women from that statement," he added. "We all share the same ideals and goals, much like the in the Air Force and military in general ... proud to serve."