from Sycuan tackles blazes with San Diego's Copter 1
MESA When a brush fire rages in San Diego, one of the most
important and least visible firefighting tools is an eight- to-
10-man crew that clears brush and cuts fire breaks on the front
are the Sycuan Golden Eagles Flycrew. The men are assigned to the
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's Copter 1 during fire season and
fly with the water-dropping helicopter daily at no cost to the city.
crew is made up of professional Sycuan firefighters and is housed
at Station 43 in Otay Mesa.
guys are the tip of the spear," said Mitch Villalpando, Sycuan's
deputy fire chief.
with chain saws, shovels and scraping tools, crew members go to
work clearing a line between the flames and the area that has not
burned, trying to contain the blaze on its flanks before it can
spread, said Perry Esquer, director of air operations.
work in concert with Copter 1 as it drops water between them and
men labor in areas that burn quickly, where flames move "at the
whim of a wind gust," Esquer said.
like sticking your head in a furnace," he said. "Hot, smoky, dirty,
Webber, 23, wielded a chain saw yesterday to cut through tree branches
during a training session in the tall, grass-covered hills east
of Brown Field.
was dripping with sweat after he and the men built 150 feet of fire
break in about 10 minutes. The training is in preparation of the
region's busiest months in September and October.
described the work as something he enjoys and has always wanted
to do. He said he likes being dropped off right next to the flames.
"The fire gets the adrenaline kicking," he said.
Deza, 29, in his seventh season with the crew, is the captain of
the men who range in age from 19 to 37. Deza said the work was exciting
and rewarding, and he described the 212 Bell HP twin-engine helicopter
as a "limousine."
know they are going to put us where the flames are, right in the
middle of the action, and that's the best part," Deza said.
partnership between the city and Sycuan began in 2003 and mutually
benefits the city and the tribal government, San Diego Deputy Fire
Chief Brian Fennessy said.
city gets a valuable work force worth tens of thousand of dollars
and the tribal firefighters get training and experience and the
use of the copter during fires on their land, Fennessy said.
the offseason, the Flycrew contracts with the city of San Diego
for brush clearing.
said the men are respected, appreciated and important to the city's
doubt the impact they make is very obvious when they are on the
ground," he said.
Maxwell, 19, the youngest member of the crew who has been on the
force for two years, said he appreciated being part of a team that
sets goals and finishes them at the end of the day. He said he comes
home exhausted but gratified.
save houses, and save lives if we can."