TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “Everything is on fire!” shouted a 5-year-old girl from the backseat as her mother drove the family car across the Carquinez Bridge near Vallejo, California.
Flames were visible on both sides of the bridge and smoke soon engulfed the car. Burning debris fell in front of the vehicle.
The mother gripped the steering wheel, assured her daughter everything would be all right and hit the gas, speeding out of danger.
This scene was the reality for hundreds of commuters who found themselves on the Carquinez Bridge, a pair of parallel bridges spanning the Carquinez Strait at the northeastern end of San Francisco Bay, Oct. 27 as the Vallejo Glen Cove Fire threatened the surrounding area. The blaze began at approximately 9 a.m., burning about 150 acres and jumped Interstate 80, shutting down the highway for five hours.
Firefighters from numerous fire departments battled the blaze, including members of the 60th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services flight. The FES team assisted with three support requests Oct. 27 by dispatching one of their 4,000 gallon water tenders to support firefighting efforts in three cities culminating with the Glen Cove Fire.
“I was dispatched to a wildland fire near Brannan Island recreation Area in Rio Vista, California, at 4 a.m. and I supported another grass fire call at Cement Hill Road and Peabody Road in Fairfield, California, after that,” said 60th CES Fire Capt. Melvin Self. “The Rio Vista fire was about 50 acres in size and I resupplied the Rio Vista Fire Department and the Montezuma FD with water. I did the same for the Fairfield FD.”
Once Self was released from the Fairfield fire, he returned to Travis AFB to refill the water tender. Once that was complete, he enjoyed a cup of coffee, but wasn’t allowed to get too comfortable as he was soon on his way to support efforts to extinguish the Glen Cove Fire.
“We met up with the incident commander near the toll plaza and we were assigned to the Maritime Academy on the west side of the Carquinez Bridge,” Self said. “We resupplied firefighters from CalFire, Vallejo and Benicia with water.”
“Later we were reassigned to the East side of the bridge, which was being worked by firefighters from Suisun City, and we cleared the East side of Eastbound I-80 just past the toll plaza to about 40 feet up the embankment to ensure the fire was out,” Self said.
The 60th CES FES team has mutual aid agreements with every city in Solano County and is often called upon for a variety of support including assistance with firefighting efforts, as well as medical and hazardous material responses. Since Jan. 1, 2019, the flight has responded to 607 calls, including 258 medical responses, 50 mutual aid requests and 24 aircraft incidents.
“Being able to help someone means everything. It’s what we do,” said Self. “We want to help people and we have no problem putting our lives on the line for that purpose.”
To ensure each member of the FES team is ready for nearly any situation, the team trains on a monthly basis.
“We complete a variety of training every month according to our schedule to maintain our qualifications and proficiency,” said Staff Sgt. James Muncy, 60th CES FES Engine-45 crew chief.
That training includes realistic scenarios firefighters may experience such as structural and wildland fires, simulated HAZMAT spills and medical emergencies.
“It’s extremely important we are ready at all times because anything can happen at all hours so we need to be ready for anything 24/7,” said Muncy. “That’s why we carefully inspect all our equipment, trucks and take our training seriously.
“I had no idea that today (Oct. 29), I would be called to the scene of an infant who was having difficulty breathing, but I did just that,” he added. “We are prepared to respond 24/7, 365 days a year whether that’s on base, in Solano County or at deployed locations around the world. We take great pride in our job and in the communities we serve.”
The 60th CES FES team consists of about 70 people with roughly two dozen firefighters working each shift. The team also has the capability to respond to any hazard.
“We are an all-hazards department, which means we respond to every type of emergency and we are part of Solano County’s HAZMAT response team,” said 60th CES FES Fire Capt. Chris Muriset. “We are required to maintain that certification at all times.”
One service that’s in high demand is medical response assistance, Muriset said.
“We’ve supported numerous medical requests, including about 10 CPR calls since I’ve been here,” he said. “About three years ago, I was part of a team that helped deliver a baby in base housing. A couple months back, I responded to a medical call for a lieutenant colonel who collapsed while running the third lap of his fitness test. We took over CPR, set up IVs and continued CPR until the medics were on scene. I then drove the ambulance that transported him to David Grant USAF Medical Center.”
Providing emergency services and supporting the community is rewarding, Muncy said.
“There is nothing better than going on a call and knowing that you possibly saved someone’s life or made their day better,” he said. “When we respond, it’s often during someone’s worst moment, so being a part of the team that helps them means everything.”