Shortly after Malibu noted the fourth anniversary of the Woolsey Fire, 26 members of the Malibu West Volunteer Fire Brigade (MWVFB) recently came together for a Training Day and practice drill — which they do several times a year. Malibu West has the most well-organized, well-equipped fire brigade in Malibu; serving as a pilot project for all other neighborhoods. They attribute their success to a highly supportive homeowners association and enthusiastic residents.
Members of the Fire Brigade were asked to participate in the training in order to become even more prepared and coordinated in their defense of the neighborhood, wrote Malibu West resident Dermot Stoker, founder of the brigade.
“The MWVFB now boasts 10 numbered Fire Brigade Boxes located throughout the neighborhood, roughly every 500 feet, all equipped with the items needed [to fight fires],” Stoker said. “One focus of the training exercise was to form Brigade Box teams.”
Stoker explained that each participant was asked to report to the Brigade Box closest to their home and “man it” with the others in the immediate area. Walkie-talkies were used to activate the Brigade Box Teams, and each team was instructed to correctly deploy the equipment stored inside the box — wyes (a “Y” -shaped Hydrant attachment) and a combination of 2.5-inch and 1.5-inch hand lines with nozzles totaling 500 feet — and attach the assembly to a fire hydrant.
Other tasks that day were to identify Brigade Box teams needing backup, and check out swimming pool pumps owned by some residents that could make swimming pool water available for firefighting.
“It’s hands-on, repetitive stuff,” Stoker remarked, “but safety is a very important component of the training. For example, you have to know to open the fire hydrant slowly, because the hose can become deadly from the full force of the water pressure, if not controlled properly.”
Stoker is thankful to everyone that participated, but gave special thanks to the four or five brand new brigade volunteers that came out, along with captains and HOA Board members Tim Biglow, Aron Marderosian, Eric Rondell, and Jason Riddick.
Although the brigade was first founded by Stoker exactly 10 years ago, Marderosian didn’t join until after the Woolsey Fire, in 2019.
“I saw firsthand what went down [in our neighborhood during the Woolsey Fire]; and the lack of resources and assistance that was available,” he said. “In a disaster like that, the only way people are going to get any help is for some of them to stay behind.”
According to a previous report, 20 of the 177 homes and 60 condos in the Malibu West neighborhood burned in the Woolsey Fire.
On Training Day, Marderosian had a somewhat different assignment than the other volunteers, who nickname him “the professor” because he’s “handy with electrical and mechanical stuff.” He did radio tests, timed how long it took teams to perform certain tasks, and took inventory of equipment.
“I also mapped out all the swimming pools in our neighborhood, which are huge resources [in firefighting],” he said. “Mrs. Glass had a 40-year old pool pump that hadn’t been used or started in 40 years, and I spent the time to get the motor started, along with Ron Lander, and it worked like it was brand new.”
Thirty-six homes in Malibu West have swimming pools, but only five or six have pool pumps that could be used in a fire.
“We’ve been encouraging people with pools to get pool pumps,” Marderosian continued. “They’re 25,000-gallon water sources. [The brigade] also bought a few mobile pool pumps [which are kept at resident’s houses, ready to deploy if needed]. If someone wants to buy a pool pump, I show them what to get and how to set it up.”
One of the big lessons learned from Woolsey, according to Stoker and Marderosian, is that having an emergency plan based on cellphone contacts is a big mistake. during the Woolsey Fire, all cell phone communications went down.
“Our new radios are a game-changer,” Marderosian said. “They’re a huge improvement over the last time. And we now have our own repeater on top of the Malibu West Beach Club, which has a generator.”
During the Woolsey Fire, the brigade was fighting the fire with shovels and garden hoses, and that’s all changed. The Fire Brigade Boxes are new since Woolsey, and have been installed and stocked with the proper firefighting equipment since 2019/20. More of the boxes are being added as needed; and being standardized as much as possible — they all have the same keys, the same thread sizes, and the same hose fittings, so everything is interchangeable.
“I’m a proud Malibu resident [of 25 years] and proud of our neighborhood,” Marderosian said. “It’s nice to be part of something where everyone wants to contribute and do their part and work together.”