Local from California tells about working in midst of California fires
By Kendall Patterson
For Stewart Brackin, being in a place where one can see burn piles is hard to imagine.
From Glendale, California, Brackin and his family moved to Chester County in January of 2018 to start a farm and live in the Christian community of Henderson. Being a police officer for the Glendale Police Department, he worked closely with Glendale’s local fire department in situations where there were all sorts of fires and brought his expertise to Freed-Hardeman University in becoming its Director of Safety and Security.
“It’s so funny coming out here, I’m still not used to seeing burn piles because that’s something we just didn’t have out there. You just couldn’t risk a burn pile, and there were laws against doing that. I drive around out here and I see a burn pile and it’s like so foreign because that would be something that would illicit a substantial response from the fire department and the law enforcement,” Brackin said.
As California, Washington and Oregon deals very serious wildfires this year that has some areas burned down, some with a burning red sky plus other areas with so much smoke it is hard to breathe, he remembers the times he dealt with fires.
“It’s always been something we dealt with. The community for which I worked had pretty substantial, sized mountains behind and between, incorporated within our boundaries,” he said. Those fires would kick off and it would be a coordinated effort between our agency and fire department municipality.”
He explained how the fire deprtment he worked with was always prepared for the situations.
“The fire department, they were always ready for it. They had protocols set. They mapped the hillsides. They knew which ways the winds were gonna blow at what times. It was really just kind of a result of poor hillside and brush management more than anything else. ”
He explained what causes the fires to become so dangerous for the region.
“They would be started sometimes by people. Sometimes they may be started by a spark from a utility pole, or transformers, or something like that or something left in the brush. Because its just so hot and dry out there, it’s really just pretty much desert. That’s why there’s an issue with getting water out there.”
Spending 25 years on the police force in Glendale, he experienced multiple types of fire situations. As time went on, he gained more and more experience as he rose in ranks from a patrol officer, to being a detective while being on the S.W.A.T. team, to sergeant and retiring as captain.
The police worked as a united force in handling fires with the fire department. There main jobs were taking care of road closures and evacuations, but sometimes they would tend the wounded when the fire department was not on the scene yet. In fact, he remembered a time where fellow police officers of his received medals of valor for saving a woman from a fire when the fire department was not on the scene yet.
There was a house fire adjacent to the hillside… A couple of our officers arrived on scene at thins house that was burning and fully engulfed. There was an elderly woman on the second floor balcony… so they were able to find a ladder nearby fortunately. The officer climbing up there, it was already so hot, he burned his hand on the railing. He picked her up, handed her off to the officer on the ladder and they managed to carry her down to safety. She literally would have burned to death up there in a matter of minutes.”
Though the fires are more serious this year, Brackin explained how they still handle everything the same as before.
“The protocols still haven’t changed. The fire department has refined them to being very effective.”