Letter: Fire Preparation

Letter to the Editor

As a 38-year veteran of the LAFD—31 years as captain—who lost a house in Malibu and whose vacation house was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma last year, I have a unique view of emergencies. In both states, my credentials were not enough to gain entry through both police lines but my experience gained me entry through knowing the system and basically lying. But that does not help the average citizen who wants to save his house. 

I could go on and on about firefighters that work their butts off, but weren’t allocated properly by command to leave many areas unsupported. But a fire of this magnitude is chaotic and chiefs from other areas who are assigned in Malibu can’t possibly know our main hazards. Possibly having Arson Watch personnel available to incoming chiefs to direct companies could be of some help.

But my goal here is to show how to save homes using the abundant resource of civilian volunteers. Florida learned from Hurricane Irma, where they had police [enforce] hard road blocks for seven days for locals. That was just enough time for every house to be condemned with mold. I snuck back in three days and cleaned everything up—and my neighbors houses, too. But they learned. Now, I’m being certified by Monroe County on proper hurricane procedures and will be issued a special ID card to get through any police line and not be forced to evacuate.

Malibu needs this! With good fire clearance around your house, proper clothing, necessary equipment and knowledge [of] what to do, you can save your house. I was in Florida when the fire hit. Waveside Church saved my house and surrounding houses with my fire hoses and a little knowledge, as there were no fire engines on Bonsall. This is not rocket science. A house takes 20 to 30 minutes to burn from the outside in. The brush fire will be nasty and burn over your house in five to 10 minutes. Wet everything down ‘til you can’t stand it, hide in the house ‘til it blows over, have a drink and then go outside and put out all the little fires. That’s what the firefighters do. Of course, there are many variables [and] proper training will show you what to do. An independent water system or tank with a generator and pump would be ideal.

If you are not up to it, leave early. If you stay, be prepared. But we need to be trained and have an identification card to allow us to stay at our homes and get through any police line without being hassled. There could even be a list of volunteers that people who want to evacuate can call and set up ahead of time to sit at their house.

P.S. Most of the firefighters in the country are volunteers!

Bill Ernst