By Mary O’KEEFE
Members of Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station and Montrose Search and Rescue were among those recognized on Wednesday by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and the department’s executive committee for their efforts in assisting L.A. County Fire in the recovery of the two fire fighters who lost their lives in the line of duty during the Station Fire.
At 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 30, four days into the Station Fire, L.A. County Fire Capt.Tedmund “Ted” Hall, 47, and Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie” Quinones, 34, drove off the side of a mountainous road near inmate Camp 16 near Mt. Gleason. Correction workers, fire personnel and inmates found themselves trapped by the fire and it has been reported that the two fire fighters were searching for a safe route out of the area.
Members of Montrose Search and Rescue had been working the fire since it began. They did a variety of jobs from supporting fire fighters to evacuations and traffic but on Aug. 30 the call came out and they found themselves in the middle of a fire storm.
“It was incredible. I never thought I would be doing this on the rescue team,” said Janet Henderson, captain of Montrose Search and Rescue.
When the call first came out it was “car over the side” of the road, Henderson recalled.
The team knew Angeles National Forest well as they spend most of their weekends patrolling the area and the majority of their rescues fall within the forest boundaries.
“It was like a war zone. Everything was on fire. There was no way of getting away from it,” said Deputy Jeff Martin, coordinator and Montrose Search and Rescue member.
He added that because of the smoke and fire it didn’t really matter that they thought they knew the roads well.
“A couple of time we had to have the person in the passenger seat open the [car] door to make certain we could see the edge of the road,” Martin said.
Team member Mike Leum was also with the group that traveled to the area to help recover the firefighters.
“There were rock slides and downed power lines. It was a narrow dirt road but with the smoke and fire it was worse,” he said.
Some of the members had to get out of the truck and clear rocks from the road as they inched their way along.
“By the time we got there fire fighters had transported half of the inmates out. Some were still there and they had gone over the side of the mountain to stay with the two [fallen] fire fighters, not wanting to leave them alone. They [those that walked down the mountain] had first degree burns on their feet,” Henderson said. The ground was still so hot from the fire that it permeated the boots, burning the soles of the fire fighters’ feet.
The team members assisted L.A. fire fighters as they proceeded down the mountain side to recover two of their own.
“We just assisted. We were there to support the fire fighters,” Leum said. The Montrose Search and Rescue Team’s truck winch was used to help bring the bodies up the side.
Other teams, including those from Antelope Valley and North Hollywood, also responded. They all worked together to support the fire fighters and each other.
“We had a good group of people up there to help,” Martin said.
Fred Wenzel was part of the Montrose team that responded.
Fred is an applicant with the team, waiting for the reserve training to start,” Martin said.
Wenzel literally had a “trial by fire” start with the team, Martin said.
The team has responded to many fires and many different types of rescues, from ice to fire.
“This was something. I have never seen anything like this before,” Martin said.
Henderson said that it was only a four to six mile trip down the road.
“But that [whole] road was on fire,” Henderson said.
She added that when a call like this comes in you can’t help but think about the danger.
“You want to go and help, but man, you think if we are stuck here, we are stuck. But we all knew what we were doing it for, and we went.”