Calif. FD gets nearly $17M in funds to build facility for expanded hand crew

The Orange County Fire Authority plans to establish the facility near the fire-prone Trabuco Canyon


By Eric Licas
Daily Pilot

IRVINE, Calif. — The Orange County Fire Authority received nearly $17 million in state funding to build a new facility near fire-prone Trabuco Canyon to house its recently expanded hand crew, officials announced Wednesday.

Firefighters on hand crews use chainsaws, picks, shovels and torches to clear brush and construct barriers in the path of flames and around homes. When they aren't at the front lines of a wildfire, they might be assigned to strategically burn away fuels in high-risk areas or assist with other emergencies like floods, earthquakes or rescue operations.

"Ever since 2007, when our board of directors voted to establish a permanent hand crew in the wake of the Santiago fire, our hand crews have been in the thick of an ever-changing battle, " Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said during a news conference at OCFA Station 18 in Irvine Wednesday. "They 've saved homes, they 've saved communities and they 've saved lives."

Since its formation, the hand crew has responded to an average of 150 incidents and spent about 5, 000 hours on hazard reduction and pre-fire management projects each year, Fennessy said. They have put in work in places like Irvine Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Maple Springs and the Camp Pendleton area.

The team had consisted of 10 personnel working on a seasonal basis. Increased funding for wildfire response and prevention in California's budget this year allowed it to expand in January to a 20- person crew that will be on duty throughout the year.

"As ecstatic and as grateful as we were to receive those funds, hiring a new full-time, year-round crew did create a new issue: a lack of space, vehicles and equipment to support the new hand crew, " Fennessy said.

He credited state Sen. Dave Min (D- Irvine) for securing an additional $16.95 million in state funds for new equipment and a facility to house the hand crew. During Wednesday's news conference, the senator said efforts to support firefighters have become paramount in the face of consecutive years of drought and in the wake of some of the most destructive blazes in California's history.

"Our years are getting hotter and drier, " Min said. "We know that the Santa Ana winds each year are creating that constant fire risk. We just know this is going to be part of our background in this state, that we're going to face more and more wildfires."

Officials were in the process of identifying a site to build the facility on as of Friday, OCFA Capt. Sean Doran said.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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