Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Firefighters Battle 2-Alarm Vegetation Fire In Gilroy

Photo By John Whitaker
While Fire Associates members were already at a vegetation fire on Highway 17, another fire broke out in the hills west of Gilroy. 
Gilroy dispatchers received a call at 1:17 P.M. on May 27, for a grass fire burning in the area of the Eagle Ridge Golf Course. The first fire units to arrive found a vegetation fire near the 9th Hole of the golf course. The fire was quickly burning through dry grass and heading uphill towards dense brush and live oak forest.
A second alarm was called which brought mutual aid support from Morgan Hill and the South County Fire District. A request was also made for Cal Fire type-3 engines, handcrews, and air support. San Jose was asked to provide station backfill in Gilroy. In addition to fire units, a special call was made for Fire Associates assistance with beverages and meals.
Photo By John Whitaker
As bad luck would have it, FASCV members John Whitaker and John Whiteside were already with  Fire Support Unit 2 at an earlier fire along Highway 17 in the Redwood Estates area. Several other FASCV members in the south Santa Clara Valley area were unable to respond -- with the exception of Bill Roth. As a relatively new FASCV member, Bill had not yet responded to a call with a support unit, but he was quick to reply that he would be taking FSU-3 to the blaze. There's always a first time!
In the meantime, John and John began to break down Rehab at Redwood Estates. With the help of firefighters, FSU-2 was quickly buttoned up and on the road towards Gilroy -- 42 miles away! As it turned out, both FSU-2 and FSU-3 arrived at the intersection of Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 85 at about the same time and together they made there way down Hwy. 101 deep into the south county.
Photo By John Whitaker
Once on scene, on the property of the Eagle Ridge gated community, FSU-3 was instructed to go to the 8th Hole to provided crews with immediate rehab support, while FSU-2 remained at the Command Center located in front of the club house so a food run could be made to a nearby Togo's. In a few minutes, 120 sandwiches, chips, and cookies were ordered up and FSU-2 left the scene to pick up the meals. With an order that big, the small crew at Togo's was challenged. But, they came through in fine fashion and the meals were delivered in 2 batches to Rehab.
Firefighters from all 3 departments on scene were served, as well as crews from Cal Fire. Cold beverages were very popular as the crews had been working the 7-acre fire in steep terrain. As the incident was winding down, all 4 hand crews from Cal Fire came through Rehab to get their meals. Needless to say, there was not much food left on the table once all these tired and hungry firefighters were through!
Rehab was broken down at approximately 7:45 P.M with both Fire Support Units returning to San Jose. It had been a very busy day.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Fire Associates Responds for Rehab Support at Redwood Estates

Photo By John Whitaker
This has to stop, sometime!
On Wednesday morning, May 28, Fire Associates responded to yet another fire in the month of May. This time, the response for Rehab support was to rehydrate crews that had been working spot vegetation fires along Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fire Associates was asked to help with the beverage and meal service at Santa Clara County Fire's Redwood Station.
John Whitaker (driving) and John Whiteside (passenger) responded to the scene with Fire Support Unit 2. As was expected, they encountered heavy southbound traffic on Highway 17 as they approached Bear Creek Rd. Traffic was backed up because the mountain highway is only two lanes in that area and fire crews had one lane blocked as they worked the fire. As instructed by the incident IC, John and John stayed on Highway 17 and used their amber lights to try to make their way past traffic -- with little success.
Photo By John Whitaker
FSU-2 arrived at Redwood Station as the County Fire and Cal Fire crews were being debriefed. As this meeting was going on, a meal service area was set up with a serving table, trash bags, and drink coolers. Six family-size Togo's sandwiches had already been delivered by fire personnel. When the meeting broke up, crews were quick to descend on Rehab.
As food was being served, fire emergency radios crackled with the news of a major vegetation fire starting up in Gilroy -- located in the far south region of the FASCV response area. This blaze quickly escalated into a 2-alarm incident with the Gilroy IC calling for mutual aid from Morgan Hill and South County Fire District. A request for Cal Fire engines, handcrews, and air support was also initiated.
John and John were quickly instructed by the Redwood IC to break down the Rehab area at this location and head south to assist FASCV member Bill Roth, who was responding solo in FSU-3 to the new incident. FASCV support at the Gilroy fire is further described in a separate story on this blog.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Monday, May 25, 2015

3-Alarm Blaze Engulfs Large House and Motor Home In Almaden Valley

Photo By John Whitaker
Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, will be more than memorable for 2 families in San Jose. 
It was around 5:40 P.M. when San Jose fire crews responded to a residence in the southern end of the Almaden Valley. Located high up on a steep ridge top amongst a small development of custom homes, the fire was initially reported as involving a motor home and a large house next door. Upon arriving at 1029 Woodview Place, firefighters found half the 3-car garage of one structure on fire along with the involved motor home.
With a large column of smoke visible to units as they were responding, a full first alarm was called which was quickly followed by a 2nd alarm upon arrival of Battalion 13. 
During the arrival of initial crews, fire burst out of the motor home and temporally engulfed a fire captain and one of his firefighters. The affected firefighters were immediately removed by other fire crews and attended to by EMS personnel. Both were eventually transported to a hospital for evaluation and were released later in the evening after observation.
With some firefighters now having to turn their attention to possibly injured personnel, a third alarm was called for additional fire companies.
Photo By John Whitaker
Meanwhile, crews battling the blaze had to deal with a narrow residential street crowded with fire apparatus and a house that proved to be somewhat of a maze. It was discovered that the fire had spread out of the garage into the upper-floor living areas, but firefighters had a difficult time determining just what rooms were on fire. Because of the building's floor plan, it was not obvious how to access the involved rooms. 
The 3rd alarm response also brought Fire Associates personnel to the scene. John Whitaker brought Fire Support Unit 2 while Bill Roth responded directly to the incident from his home in San Martin. Bill scouted out an area for Rehab and directed John to the location upon arrival. Tables, benches, and drink coolers were set up in a neighbor's driveway. Bruce Dembecki joined the group at that point and coordinated the ordering of meals with the IC. Bruce and Bill left the scene to pick the meals at about the time FASCV member Mike Garcia arrived. 
They were all joined later by John Whiteside, who brought FSU-3 just in case another response happened during this incident. Since all available "south area" FASCV drivers were on scene, it made sense to have the extra Support Unit for a quick response to a seperate fire, if needed.
With approximately 100 firefighters on scene, Rehab was a very busy place when the food arrived. Eighty Togo's sandwiches along with chips were served up to the tired and hungry firefighters. As usual, a lot of water, lemonade, and Gatorade were also provided. After everyone was fed, FSU-2 and FSU-3 were released back into service at approximately 9:45 P.M.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tier 2 Vegetation Fire Burns Large Field Near Capital Expressway

Photo from ABC7 News
On Sunday afternoon, May 24, it was breezy but not very hot in San Jose. But, it was the middle day of a 3-day holiday weekend – a time when fires seem to occur all too often.
About 4:30 P.M., FASCV member John Whiteside was monitoring the fire radio when he heard Engine 35, traveling in south San Jose, report a large column of black smoke to the northeast. San Jose Dispatch replied that they had received multiple calls for a wildland fire, with possible structure involvement, and were starting a dispatch.
Being the only “south area” FASCV driver available, John began preparing to respond. At 4:46 P.M., Fire Associates was paged for a Tier 2 wildland dispatch to the east side of Capitol Expressway, between Quimby Rd. and Nieman Blvd. This area is known all too well by firefighters and Fire Associates. It is a very large, open field surrounded by a mobile home park, commercial and residential structures, and the Expressway.
John responded to the request by going to San Jose Station 35 to bring Fire Support Unit 3. He arrived on scene shortly before 5:30 P.M. and set up cold drinks and Clif bars. Soon, FASCV members Len Williams and Mike Garcia arrived, then George Hoyt, and later Mike Jensen (guest). Mike Garcia and Len later picked up 85 Togo’s sandwiches for the fire crews. FSU-3 made two trips down side streets to deliver the food to firefighting divisions.
All 7 of San Jose’s staffed brush patrols, with their engines, the 3 water tenders with their engines, plus additional engine special calls and the structure complements, made for a huge deployment of equipment in the area. Flame lengths of 20+ feet were being reported by the deployed crews.
Some impressive raw numbers from this fire: 1) 14 of San Jose's 29 type-1 Engines were on scene, 2) along with all 7 type-6 Engines, 3) all 3 Water Tenders, 4) 4 out of 5 Battalion Chiefs, and 5) at least a quarter of the SJFD Truck companies... Not a lot of resources left for the rest of the city!
Ultimately, no structures were involved. At the corner of the field, at the Expressway next to a structure, approximately 12 trees had to be dropped due to fire damage, continued burning, and an unsafe hazard to autos and pedestrians. This job was handled by a commercial tree company.
By 8:30 P.M., John returned with FSU-3 to Station 35 and was invited to dine with the Station 35 Engine and Truck crews. YUM!!
 -- Report submitted by John Whiteside

San Jose Carport Fire Spreads to Upstairs Apartment

Photo By John Whitaker
On May 24, the peace and quiet of a Sunday morning was broken when Fire Associates pagers alerted to a 3-alarm fire burning just south of downtown. Firefighters were on scene at a carport fire that spread into to living quarters of a 4-plex apartment located above.  
Located at 1360 Lick Ave., near it's intersection with Alma Ave., first-arriving Engine crews were faced with a fast-spreading fire fueled by two vehicles in the carport. While that was happening, the "Truckers" were verifying that everyone was out of the 4 affected apartments. In all, 12 people were displaced and were assisted by the American Red Cross.
Fire Associates' members were requested at 5:24 A.M., while most were sound asleep on a quiet Memorial Day holiday weekend. Bruce Dembecki responded to the incident with Fire Support Unit 2 and was met on scene by John Whitaker. Dan Wong later arrived to help with the rehab effort.
Firefighters were especially pleased to find donuts and hot coffee waiting for them as they rotated through Rehab. Rehab is a very lively place when there are donuts! After everyone was served, including police officers on scene for traffic control, FSU-2 was released at approximately 8:20 A.M.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Homes Threatened By Tier 3 Vegetation Fire In East San Jose Foothills

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
On Saturday afternoon, May 23, the firefighters on San Jose Engine 19 spotted a column of smoke in the east foothills. They quickly contacted Dispatch and called for a Tier 1 response, initially putting the location in the area of Penitencia Creek Rd. While units were being dispatched, neighbors called in with an actual address of 11482 Chula Vista Drive. Arriving firefighters discovered a fast-moving blaze in several acres of open land surrounded by homes with no apparent vehicle access. Not a very good situation!
A Tier 2 was quickly called, along with a Medium Cal Fire response, bringing much-needed air support. The lack of access, and the strong threat to many residences, saw the incident upgraded several more times, with the addition of a Tier 3 response and a call for the Santa Clara County Wildland task force.
The base of the hillside where the fire was anchored near Holly Drive was geographically very close to the top of the hill. But, to drive from one to the other involved a 2.5-mile wind through the lower foothills. Staging was put roughly in the middle of that 2.5-mile route.
To complicate matters, during the incident, a resident suffered a medical issue which required an EMS response. An engine from staging, along with a County EMS rig, were dispatched to the scene but had difficulty negotiating their way to the incident as the road was blocked in several places by 5-in. supply lines. Between this EMS issue, and the crews trying to get out in front of the fire itself, there was a large number of emergency vehicles moving in different directions along the edge of the eastern foothills.
Cal Fire aircraft worked the fire making several drops, including a retardant drop from Tanker 85 and several drops from Copter 106.
Another complication to the firefighting effort was the type of landscaping used in the neighborhood. While the hillside between the houses was steep and grassy, several of the homes had tall palm trees. Once the fire spread into the tops of the palm trees, it was a problem getting water into the trees to douse the blaze. The burning tree tops also caused several issues with embers falling from the sky.
The Tier 2 call-out resulted in an automatic request for Fire Associates assistance. FASCV member Bruce Dembecki responded with Fire Support Unit 2 and was met on scene by Mike Garcia, George Hoyt, Dan Wong, and Kenny Needham (guest).
The difficult terrain and large travel distances presented just as much of a problem for Rehab as it had for the fire crews, initially. The IC and FASCV members determined the best approach was to travel to the different outposts of crews and rehab them in place. Water, Gatorade, and Cliff bars were ferried around in Support Unit 2 to the various sides of the blaze and the crews working overhaul.
It was later determined that a residents welding project resulted in the blaze.
  • An NBC Bay Area news story, video, and photos can be read at:  Fire Contained
  • Craig Allyn Rose's photos can be viewed at:  Tier 3 Fire
-- Report submitted by Bruce Dembecki

Thursday, May 21, 2015

San Jose Firefighters Tackle Tier 2 Vegetation Fire

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
In one of our earlier posts, dated May 20, the opening statement may have been in error. We forgot that there are actually 4 things that are certain in life:  1) you're born, 2) you die, 3) there will be a vegetation fire on Communications Hill, AND... 4) every fire season, Fire Associates will go to a grass fire on Remillard Court!
So, just like clockwork, on Thursday, May 21, in the early afternoon, FASCV was paged by the San Jose Fire Department to a grass fire on Remillard Ct. near its intersection with Story Rd. Grass and light vegetation was burning along the creek bed between Coyote Creek and the old Southern Pacific right-of-way. A Tier 2 response was eventually called as a fire in that location has the potential to spread to adjoining land.
Fire Associates responded with Fire Support Unit 2 with John Whitaker driving. He was met on scene by FASCV member Mike Garcia and the 2 of them drove up to the Command position on a bluff overlooking the fireground. Also on the ridge was Engine 13 and Water Tender 13.
But, as with most vegetation fires, the hard-working crews were down below trying to contain the blaze. With most of the wildfire in check, by this time, the crews were mainly spread out concentrating on hitting the hot spots. Because of this, Remillard IC, Rob Brown, saw no real need for any real rehab effort on the part of FASCV.
So, FSU-2 stayed on scene providing water and Gatorade to the Station 13 crew and then made sure all the crews had their hydration needs met as John and Mike left the area.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Toxic Chemicals Challenge San Jose Firefighters at Metal Plating Company Blaze

Photo By John Whitaker
In the past few months, San Jose firefighters have responded to a spate of multi-alarm commercial fires all within a two-mile radius. Although not connected, the fires have all proved to be a challenge.
This time, at 12:27 A.M. on Tuesday morning May 19, a caller reported a fire burning in an industrial complex just off Zanker Road near Highway 101. First-arriving crews discovered the blaze burning at Haro's Metal Finishing, Inc. located at 439 Reynolds Circle.
Because of the type of business, efforts to extinguish the fire proved to be difficult. Metal finishing involves lots of toxic chemicals, including cyanide and sulfuric acid. So, the command staff on scene not only had to concentrate on putting out the fire, but they also had to deal with the very toxic water run-off. Eventually, a 4th alarm was called as firefighters had to rotate through decon before they could be rehabbed. The Santa Clara County Hazmat unit joined with San Jose's Hazmat to handle the decontamination of personnel, equipment, hoses, and fire apparatus. Needless to say, it was a mess!
When Fire Associates was summoned to the scene on the 3rd alarm, John Whitaker responded with Fire Support Unit 2 at approximately 12:50 A.M. Upon arrival, the FSU was kept in Staging until the chemical danger had diminished. After approximately 2 hours being held at bay, a rehab area was set up adjacent to the decon location and firefighters were finally able to enjoy some cold drinks and 3 dozen donuts on a chilly and overcast early morning. John was joined on scene by FASCV member Mike Garcia.
The support unit was kept on site until 4:45 A.M. when it was released to return to service.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Sunday, May 17, 2015

San Jose Firefighters Respond to Communications Hill for Vegetation Fire

Photo By John Whitaker
Three things in life are certain:  1) you're born, 2) you die, and 3) there will be a vegetation fire every year on Communications Hill.
At 9:51 PM on Sunday, May 17, Fire Associates members were paged to assist San Jose firefighters as a fire was quickly spreading through the very dry vegetation on Communications Hill. The fire was burning at the end of Communications Hill Blvd., near its intersection with Monte Vista Drive. 
Engine 26 firefighters were the first to arrive and found a grass fire quickly spreading through the tall vegetation. It was not long before a Tier 2 level fire was declared. Fortunately, Sunday was the first day of activation for the department's brush patrol units and they were quickly put to work. Their quick work was able to hold the blaze to an estimated 5 acres.
John Whiteside responded for Fire Associates, bringing Fire Support Unit 2 to the scene. He was met at the fire by FASCV members Mike Garcia, John Whitaker, and Ken Needham (guest). Cold water, Gatorade, and Clif Bars were provided to all the fire crews as they returned off the hill to the Command Center. They were all very tired as the firefighting effort on steep terrain in the dark proved to be very exhausting.
After most of these crews were served, the IC asked FASCV members if they could relocate to the Chateau La Salle mobile home park to provide rehab service for the three engine companies who had been dispatched to that location for structure protection. After leaving a couple of cases of drinks and Clif Bars with the IC, FSU-2 was quickly packed up and moved to the new location at the head of the fire. Fire crews there were very grateful for the help as they had not only been providing protection for half a dozen mobile homes, but had also been on the hill stopping the fire's spread.
At approximately 12:30AM, FSU-2 was released from service and returned to quarters.
The first fire on Communications Hill was under control, but sometime during the summer, we'll be back -- that's for certain!
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Monday, May 11, 2015

Santa Clara City Firefighters Make A Good Stop On Condo Fire

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
Date and Time: May 11, 2015, 0025 hours
Agency: Santa Clara City Fire
Incident Address: 936 Kiely Blvd., Santa Clara
Type: Third Alarm
Large multi-building, multi-unit two-story over parking frame condo complex (Woodsborough Condos). Closely built large buildings complicated access for firefighting and exposure protection. Firefighters made an aggressive attack on a well-developed fire in the upper floor and made a stop before the fire was able to run the attic space. IC stated, “This one could have been a whole lot worse." Two trapped occupants were rescued through windows. Fire Support Unit 1 was released from the scene at 0330 hours.
Agency Responders:
SNC: E-91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99; T-92, 98; HM-99; Batt-92 (Dellamaggiora-IC); 9A1.
SJS & SNY: Responded for station coverage.
FASCV Responding Unit: FSU-1.
FASCV Responders: Mike Garcia (driver) and Jerry Haag.
-- Report submitted by Jerry Haag

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Victorian House Burns in Downtown San Jose On Mother's Day

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day of rest and relaxation for family members as they celebrate their mom. But the day got off to a busier-than-usual start for two members of the Fire Associates “family”.
Shortly before 3:00 A.M., FASCV members Bruce Dembecki and John Whitaker responded into downtown San Jose to provide rehab support at a 3-alarm blaze. Located at 727 S. 2nd Street, firefighters found flames rolling out of the rear of a single-story, Victorian-era residence. With an empty lot on the “Bravo” side and an alleyway on the “Charlie” side, firefighters concentrated on the structure of origin and another Victorian home located on the “Delta” exposure.
Photo By John Whitaker
John Whitaker arrived on scene before the Support Unit, so he contacted the IC to find out if a rehab location had been established. It hadn’t, so John set about to find a good location. By the time Bruce Dembecki arrived with FSU-2, a location had been decided upon and the two FASCV members set out 2-dozen donuts and began making pots of coffee. 
Yes, donuts are back in San Jose!
The sight of donuts on the fireground made for a lot of happy faces and rehab became a very busy place.
After a couple of hours on scene, FSU-2 was released at approximately 4:45 A.M. and Bruce and John were able to return to their homes to try and get some rest before the real activities of Mother’s Day took over.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Thursday, May 7, 2015

San Jose Fire Crews Respond to 3-Alarm Gas Explosion

Photo By John Whitaker
Lately, it seems that every time Fire Associates gets a call for rehab assistance, our members are either in a meeting, volunteering for another agency, or involved in some sort of work activity. Thursday night, May 7 was no different.
While the majority of FASCV's membership was at Palo Alto Fire's Stanford Station for a monthly membership meeting, the San Jose Fire Department was dispatched to 780 Commercial Street for reports of an explosion and multiple gas canisters on fire. When the news of the blaze reached members via their "PulsePoint" application, John Whitaker kept an ear to his radio just in case the fire went to multiple alarms.
First-arriving firefighters found that the explosion had involved Acetylene, Oxygen, and Propane tanks used for welding. The tanks were located on the exterior of large, tilt-up concrete building occupied by "The Lloyd E. Williams Pipe Trades Training Center". In addition to the approximately 24 exterior tanks, the fire slightly penetrated the structure through a skylight, but was kept in check by the building's fire sprinklers. The firefighting operation quickly became a mainly defensive operation with the goal of cooling the tanks while allowing the gas to burn off.
With most of the FASCV membership in Palo Alto, John Whiteside had volunteered to stay back in the South County in anticipation of just such a need for assistance. In an example of  "Proper Prior Planning", John's sense of responsibility paid off! 
Once the fire went to 3 alarms, John Whiteside left his home for SJFD Station 6 to get Fire Support Unit 2. In the meantime, John Whitaker left the membership meeting and went directly to the fire scene. He made contact with San Jose's Med30 (Capt. Tim Miller on his first night in that assignment) and a location for rehab was scouted out. When FSU-2 arrived, an informal rehab area was set up with lots of hot coffee brewed on a chilly night. When the membership meeting was adjourned, other FASCV members came to the fireground to assist. Those on scene included Bruce Dembecki, Mike Garcia, Bill Roth, and Kenny Needham (guest).
Part way through the incident, it was discovered that the SJFD Truck 1 crew had not yet had their dinner. So, 10 burrito dinners were ordered up and Bruce left to do a minimal meal run. Along about 11:30 P.M. the operation became a wait-and-see effort as the gas burned off and the majority of crews (including FSU-2) were released to return to quarters.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Second Alarm Called in Gilroy for Mobile Home Blaze

Photo Courtesy of the Gilroy Fire Department
In the city of Gilroy, Cinco de Mayo is often a day of celebration for many of its residents of Mexican heritage. But on this day, several families did not have much reason to celebrate.
At approximately 9:20 A.M., Gilroy Fire received multiple calls of a mobile home on fire in the 500 block of W. 10th St. By the time firefighters arrived, one double-wide unit was fully involved and the fire was beginning to spread to mobile homes on all three exposures. Gilroy Engine 47 took up a position on the "Alpha" side of the fire while Truck 47 responded to an endangered structure on the "Charlie" side of the fireground. Because the fire was rapidly growing, rather than assuming their normal "trucker" activities, the Truck 47 crew immediately began firefighting duties by attacking the fire with their own hand lines and raising the "stick" for a possible aerial assault.
It was not long before a second alarm was called which brought additional fire units from Morgan Hill, South County Fire District, and Cal Fire. It also brought a request for Fire Associates assistance with rehab. As luck would have it, FASCV South County responders Bill Roth and John Whiteside were miles away atop Copernicus Peak preparing the Cal Fire lookout for the upcoming fire season. In addition, FASCV President Bruce Dembecki was unavailable at work, Don Gilbert was unavailable as he recovers from recent surgery, and John Whitaker was attending a San Jose Fire Museum Board meeting. Of these five FASCV members, John Whitaker was the most available, so he volunteered to respond in Fire Support Unit 2.
Photo By John Whitaker
Once on scene, John was met by Gilroy Fire Department Chief Alan Anderson. A rehab site was selected and John commenced to set up serving tables, portable benches, assorted Clif bars, and several ice chests stocked with cold Gatorade and water. Fifty sandwiches had already been ordered from Subway and John awaited their arrival. Four boxes of sandwiches and chips soon arrived and they were quickly set upon by hungry and tired firefighters.
John remained on scene staffing rehab until all but the last few fire crews had been released. At approximately 1:30 P.M., FSU-2 was released and John began the 35-minute drive back to San Jose Fire Station 6.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker