Firefighter returns from frontline battle against western wildfires
Updated 6:19 am, Monday, August 31, 2015
Assistant Fire Chief Michael Kronick remembers watching massive wildfires ravage Yellowstone National Park in the late 1980s and wondering what it would be like to be a firefighter battling such a towering blaze.
He got a chance to find out after joining the Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew, part of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, deployed to battle massive fires.
Kronick returned to town last Friday after helping to battle the out-of-control River Complex Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California. This was his eighth deployment with the interstate crew since 2002, said Kronick, who has been with the local Fire Department for 17 years, three as assistant chief.
“We worked the one fire while we were out there,” Kronick said Wednesday of his 20-person crew.
They worked the fire in a California town called Denny, where they helped protect about 36 homes from burning by building a fire line around the town. While successful in that effort, Kronick said the fire is still burning and, so far, has consumed about 67,900 acres. “It could still be burning when the snow flies in the winter,” said Kronick, 43, a Trumbull resident.
Their job for two weeks: to dig hand lines, also called fire control lines, he explained. The crew stayed in a spike camp, which is a safe area close to where they were working.
Each day, the firefighters were up around 5 a.m. for breakfast, then there would be a morning briefing that included information about safety issues, he said. They began work around 6:30 or 7 a.m. and worked through until 8:30 or 9 p.m.
“We were never in any danger, but danger is a relative term,” Kronick aid. While he was out west, three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed battling raging wildfires in Washington State. “That’s the reality of it,” he said.
Kronick’s crew was deployed Aug. 4. A chartered jet flew them from Manchester, N.H., to Redding, Calif., he said. The Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew included 10 firefighters from departments around the state and 10 from the state DEEP. There were also two firefighters from New Hampshire and two from Maine.
At the airport in Redding, they picked up equipment and supplies and all the tools they would need, he said. From there, they were driven to the spike camp. “It was two days of travel at each end and 15 days firefighting,” he said.
While on deployment, Konnick said he uses vacation or comp time from the local department and is considered an employee of the federal government, which pays him.
Kronick, who is also a local shift commander, said being part of the Connecticut crew is fulfilling. “It’s back-breaking, dirty and nasty,” he said, “but you can see results.”
Kronick said there is also a special camaraderie among the crew mates. “You spend 14 to 15 days with someone and you can really form a bond,” he said. “I’ve made some life-long friends.”
Another positive is that the learning that comes from fighting the wildfires can be applied to other disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy, he said. “You use a lot of the same skills and abilities in mobilizing, scheduling, and getting supplies,” he said.
But, Kronick said, the bottom line is that he loves what he does. “It’s my passion,” he said. “I’m able to do what I enjoy doing and it helps others.”