By Mary O’KEEFE
As we look back 12 years at the Station Fire, we remember the two firefighters who lost their lives as they worked to save others.
One of the most personal stories CVW shared during that time came from members of the Montrose Search and Rescue team; we share it again:
MSAR members had been working the fire since it began. On Aug. 30, 2009, a call came out of a car over the side of the road but when the team responded, it turned into a tragedy that they would never forget.
“It was incredible. I never thought I would be doing this on the rescue team,” said Janet Henderson, MSAR member.
The team knew Angeles National Forest well, so responding to a call for help was routine; but not when the forest was on fire.
“It was like a war zone. Everything was on fire. There was no way of getting away from it,” recalled Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Jeff Martin, who at the time was assistant coordinator of MSAR. “A couple of times we had to have the [team member] in the passenger seat open the [car] door to make certain we could see the edge of the road.”
The over the side vehicle call pertained to Los Angeles Fire Capt. Tedmund “Ted” Hall, 47, and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie” Quinones, 34. They had driven off the side of a mountainous road near inmate Camp 16 near Mt. Gleason. They were searching for a safe route out of the area for the correction workers, fire personnel and inmates who were trapped at the camp by the fire.
“There were rock slides and downed power lines. It was a narrow dirt road but with the smoke and fire it was worse,” said Mike Leum, MSAR member.
Some of the members got out of the truck and cleared rocks from the road as they slowly traveled along.
“By the time we got there, firefighters 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] firefighters, not wanting to leave them alone. [Those who walked down the mountain] had first degree burns on their feet,” Henderson said. The ground was so hot from the fire it permeated the boots, burning the soles of the firefighters’ feet.
“We just assisted,” Leum added. “We were there to support the firefighters.”
“We had a good group of people up there to help,” Martin said.
“This was something. I had never seen anything like this before,” Martin said.
Henderson said the entire distance was only four to six miles down the road.
“But that road was on fire,” Henderson said. She added that when a call like that comes in, rescuers can’t help but think about the danger.
“You want to go and help, but you think, ‘If we are stuck here, we are stuck.’ But we all knew what we were doing it for and we went,” she said.