By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It’s a scenario firefighters train for, but hope they never have to face.
On June 23, a fire broke out in Waldo Canyon, a popular hiking area in Colorado Springs, Colo. With a multitude of firefighters from the local community sent to battle the flame, the Knights from the 21st Space Wing quickly stepped up to the plate to support the effort.
Cheyenne Mountain Fire and Emergency Services from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station were called that day to assist with the initial fire in Waldo Canyon.
According to Chris Soliz, Cheyenne Mountain Fire Department assistant chief of training, the CMFES has a mutual aid agreement with the Colorado Springs Fire Department and often coordinates with them in training and response. With this agreement already in place, there was an immediate request for mutual-aid support.
The fire fighting teams at Cheyenne Mountain AFS have the special training required to fight a fire of this nature. “Since 2009, together with Fort Carson Fire Department, we have sponsored and coordinated the Pikes Peak Regional Wildfire Academy. This is a training academy open to civilian and federal agencies as an opportunity to train with neighboring fire departments,” Soliz said.
As a result, CMFES has the most Red Card certified firefighters of any Air Force fire department in the Front Range. Red Card is a certification required to fight wild land fires.
In addition to providing assistance with the Waldo Canyon fire on June 23, the CMFES was backfilling CSFD Station 16 in the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood. “CMFES firefighters responded to a separate wildfire near Gold Camp Road,” Soliz said.
That fire was quickly put out, but the fire in Waldo Canyon continued to grow. The next day, CMFES provided a crew of seven firefighters to work with two firefighters from the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Colorado Springs Fire Mitigation Team. Together they battled the flames for 12 hours.
As the fire continued to grow, support from other agencies, including Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems-equipped C-130s from the 153rd and 302nd Airlift Wings, started to pour in and the CMFES began focusing their help on backfilling the CSFD stations. “Our firefighters are happy to help in any way and have gained invaluable experience from tragic circumstances,” Soliz said. “Other responses while staffing Station 7 have been vehicle accidents, emergency medical conditions, a fire from an electric transformer, and several others.”
The CMFES is averaging 10 to 12 responses a day while supporting the CSFD.
According to Cindy Litteral, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department deputy chief, the primary function of the Peterson fire department has also been backfilling fire stations within the community and at the Academy. “We’ve been at the Academy helping backfill so they can take care of business,” she said. The Peterson Fire Department also supplied a fire truck to the CMFES for aid.
Additionally, the 21st SW provided shelter for 101 Civil Air Patrol cadets overnight after they were evacuated from the Academy on June 26.
The 21st Medical Group jumped in to help the Academy’s 10th MDG by dispensing 1,000 prescriptions to patients normally assigned to the Academy’s clinic.
A refueling truck from the 21st SW was sent to the Academy to fill equipment. The 21st CES provided a bulldozer to CE professionals on the Academy to allow further fire mitigation on the installation, as well as a pumper truck to aid in fire suppression.
Base officials also assembled more than 240 families who volunteered to house approximately 995 military evacuees, if needed.
“The 21st Space Wing is stepping up to help all agencies in the herculean effort of combating the Waldo Canyon wildfire,” said Col. Chris Crawford, 21st SW commander. “We have exhaustive plans in place to support local, state and national organizations where necessary and when needed.”