This is the response that Mid-Coast Fire Brigade sent to the BBC author, Lucy Sherriff. Beautifully written letter than will provide all with the background and historical information on the Brigade. Thank you, Cheryl for the clarity.
“Yesterday and today I was contacted by numerous upset citizens regarding an article written by you and published by BBC regarding fire protection in the Palo Colorado community.
I also spoke to Chief Matt Harris of Big Sur Fire Brigade who just forwarded me your inquiry. Big Sur Fire Brigade is not the fire jurisdiction responsible for Palo Colorado and its environs. Mid Coast Fire Brigade is responsible for all emergency incidents which occur between the southern border of Carmel Highlands (near Yankee Point Dr) and Hurricane Point. The lack of mention of any officially organized fire protection entity seemed intentionally misleading since you drive right past the fire station on Palo Colorado Road and it is clearly signed.
Mid Coast Fire Brigade (www.midcoastfirebrigade.org) was organized in 1978 and officially established in 1979 as the agency having jurisdiction in this area. The Brigade was established in response to a lack of resources available to respond to emergencies when CalFire was not fully staffed during their non fire season. Cal Fire is charged with the wildland firefighting responsibility in state watersheds in California and the United States Forest Service is responsible for wildland firefighting in federally managed areas. Local fire agencies respond in concert with state and federal agencies to wildland fires with either CalFire or the USFS in command of wildland fire incidents, depending on jurisdiction. Local fire agencies have the primary responsibility for all other types of emergencies including structure fires, medical emergencies, vehicle accidents, and rescues including surf and cliff rescues.
Mid Coast Fire Brigade maintains two wildland fire apparatus one with the jaws of life, one structure fire engine, one water tender, one rescue squad capable of fire suppression and cliff rescue, one ocean rescue response unit, one utility, 2 UTVs and one Chief Officer vehicle. These vehicles we designed specifically for the narrow mostly dirt roads in our area. The Brigade currently has 20 all-volunteer members on its roster, all of whom must maintain the same state mandated training standards as all other professional / paid and volunteer fire agencies state wide. Most of our personnel are trained to the California State Firefighter 1 level, and all are trained in Hazardous Materials Operation level. The Fire Chief is a certified state fire instructor for fire training and Hazardous Materials training. The Fire Chief is certified by the Monterey County EMS Agency to provide medical training in house and teaches EMT training at Monterey Peninsula Community College. Minimum medical training is Emergency Medical Responder and most personnel are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT). The Mid Coast Fire Brigade launched Monterey County’s first Ocean Response Rescue Team and has officially implemented a Rope Rescue program. Our volunteer firefighters live or work within our response area and dedicate themselves to the service of their entire community training at a minimum of twice a month to maintain their skills. There are very few citizens in our response area that have not been contacted personally by the Fire Chief and asked to join the Fire Brigade and get involved to protect their community. Most decline because of the time commitment required to maintain their skills and the time commitment to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice, which may very well be your own neighbor. Our response area covers 32 square miles including some of the most dramatic coastline in Big Sur including the Bixby Bridge and Hurricane Point. The community we fight to protect is not limited to a small cluster of homes around where we live but our entire community at large. The neighborhood mentioned in your article is effectively in the middle of our response area and less than 3 miles from our fire station.
In 2011 the Brigade completed building the communities first ever fire station. The station was built with donations from the community that it serves and is utilized as a facility to house fire apparatus and for the community to gather in times of disaster. The Brigade receives limited funds from the County of Monterey and relies on fund raising efforts and true volunteerism from its firefighting personnel as there is no pay at the end of the day. The Assistant Chief and Fire Chief each have over 35 years of firefighting experience and both retired from Cal Fire as Fire Captains.
The Mid Coast Fire Brigade in conjunction with a long time resident and past Fire Brigade member conceived, developed and successfully implemented a Neighborhood Coordinator program. The idea being that during an emergency a few phone calls could be placed by the Coordinator to the designated coordinator in each neighborhood so people could be quickly notified of an emergency. The Fire Chief placed the call on Friday night to the Coordinator asking that the notification process be started with the community to prepare to evacuate as Cal Fires official order may come much too late.
The Fire Brigade was actively involved in the fire fighting efforts and protection of structures during the Soberanes Fire. July 23rd when the fire jumped Garrapata Creek and freight trained through the community destroying 57 structures there were no decisions made by any firefighting resources deciding which homes to let burn and which homes to save. With the fire conditions that presented that night areas could simply not be accessed due to the intense fire activity. In the very area presented in your article we were made aware of a community member that stayed behind to protect their home and was asked to try to remove that person. Despite our best efforts and due to the intense fire activity with numerous burning trees across the road, we were driven out of the area and could not make access. The Brigade went through the proper channels to make notifications of the situation and arrange to affect a possible rescue of the individual as soon as it was deemed safe.
Because of the efforts of the Brigade numerous homes were saved that would have been otherwise destroyed as firefighting resources were so limited during the Soberanes Fire. Spot fires were extinguished by the Brigade before they were able to spread and destroy additional structures in the community. We witnessed numerous neighbors that evacuated their homes during the fire and some that stayed but few asked the simple question..how can we help? The Mid Coast Fire Brigade members walked away from their own homes not knowing what would be there when they returned to help others. I am so very proud of them every day for all they give up to protect their community. The recent Tubbs Fire, Paradise Fire and the countless fires with large losses of homes and lives within their communities should tell you that you simply cannot deploy enough resources in the timeframe that they are needed in a major fire with burning conditions we have seen in last several years. You cannot get out in front of a wind driven fire and stop the flaming fire front. You do the best you can to minimize loss of property and lives and unfortunately not everyone will be happy with the outcome.
The Fire Brigade worked in conjunction with PG&E and AT&T, to restore power and phones to the area. SPCA to provide food for pets as our community returned home. The County of Monterey and the Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA now CABS) to ensure dumpsters were in place to remove spoiled food and fire debris. The American Red Cross to build sifters, provide rakes and masks for people to sift through the remains of their burned structures and asked them to provide water as the private water systems were destroyed and/or filled with ash and fire debris. All of this was in place prior to our community returning home three weeks after the fire erupted.
Prior to the Soberanes Fire the Mid Coast Fire Brigade established an annual Wildland Hazard Inspection program to educate the community on providing defensible space around their homes and suggested products to help defend their homes. In 2010 the Mid Coast Fire Brigade organized and participated in a grass roots effort to clear 4 miles of the Palo Colorado Road right of way of dead trees and undergrowth using donated equipment and volunteer personnel from the community. In 2013 the Brigade organized and participated in another road clearing program on a private road, which leads to the residents mentioned on the article to remove dead trees that had become a life threat to residents traveling on the roadway. This project required the telephone company to lower its telephone lines which serviced the area, dead trees were removed using volunteer personnel and equipment, once the trees were removed the telephone company replaced and repaired their equipment improving service to the residents affected. In 2015 the Mid Coast Fire Brigade secured a $750,000.00 grant from the United States Forest Service to construct a shaded fuel break along the ingress/egress routes, ridges and escapes routes so vital to the community, this project was completed May 31, 2016, less than 2 months before the Soberanes Fire erupted. This project allowed resources access to roads which otherwise may not have been accessible due to brush covered roadsides and overhanging tree limbs that limited the height of vehicles able pass on the roadway. In 2017 the Brigade applied for and obtained a $36,000 grant to install 30,000 gallons of water storage for fire protection at a critical location in the community (there is no public water system and only a few private hydrants in the community). The Mid Coast Fire Brigade is currently working with Cal Fire to re-establish and expanding the fuel breaks to help protect the Mid Coast community at large and not just focusing on a small portion of the Community, as noted in the article. The Mid Coast Fire Brigade has worked relentlessly with the County of Monterey and Supervisor Mary Adams office to ensure that our community does not go forgotten and we have been the go to organization to ensure communication with the community and the needs of the community are not forgotten as there is not an official government entity here to fight for the community.
We have a fire service in California that is unrivaled anywhere in the world with the quickest access to resources. With Big Sur Fire Brigade and United States Forest Service to the south, Cal Fire and Monterey County Fire agencies to the north, the quickest mobilization of resources is available for any emergency in our area. We train and work together well and if there is any take away from this it would be that no single person or agency can do this job alone, we need to work together in the system that is already in place.
We have a community that is united, and although we may not always agree with each other I cannot imagine a better place to live and call home than Big Sur.
Mid Coast Fire Brigade