Cooper Boneck (center), one of two Arroyo Grande Hotshots working to cut a fire break up steep terrain in Toro Canyon along side members of Bend Oregon City firefighters, Santa Lucia Crew Seven and Vandenberg Hotshots. (Dec. 12, 2017)
At a Glance: Firefighting 101
Here’s How Wildland Hand Crews Work, Talk, Eat, and Save the Day
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Wildland firefighters sure seem superhuman — they scramble up and down flaming slopes for days on end, carrying heavy packs and swinging hefty tools. But these flesh-and-blood mortals have the same basic needs as the rest of us. Here’s how Santa Barbara County Fire Department hand crews protect themselves, what they eat, how they talk, and who looks out for them from above.
Tools of the Trade
Indirect attacks are critical to fighting fast-moving wildland fires — drawing lines in the sand some distance from the fire’s edge to hold the blaze at bay. These are the tools that hand crews use to chew through brush and chaparral.
Chainsaw: The most ubiquitous portable power tool in wildland firefighting. Used by the sawyer to cut and the puller to clear vegetation.
By Courtesy Photo
Pulaski: A dual-purpose device with a double-edged head — one to cut like an ax, the other to slice roots and dig trenches
Rhino: A bruiser of a tool — used to slash through large weeds and brush and quickly clear wide stretches of terrain — that’s essentially a shovel with its blade cut off and spine cut and then turned over 180 degrees and re-welded to form a curved hoe.
Combi: A versatile piece of equipment that can be used as a shovel or configured like a mini-rhino to clear brush and throw dirt.
A typical county fire hand crew consists of a crew boss, four sawyers, four pullers, three to four Pulaskis, and one or two rhinos and combis
Every day before they head to the line, Santa Barbara County firefighters scarf down a hot breakfast at base camp and then grab a brown-bag lunch packed with at least 3,000 calories of sustenance. They have a meat option and veggie option (pictured here), which includes a green burrito with Portobello mushrooms, noodles with red bell peppers, lots of nuts, energy bars, a few pieces of fruit, and a cookie. The meat option comes with a ham sandwich on wheat bread.
Though more than 90 planes and helicopters rallied from around the state to pound the Thomas Fire with water and retardant, these six types of aircraft have done the bulk of the heavy lifting: