On September 16th, 2020

At a Time When Many Are Asking What’s Next, Emergency Response Crews Focus on the Emergency at Hand

Law enforcement briefing at Creek Fire Incident Command Center in Madera County

MADERA COUNTY - When you work in the world of emergency services, you know better than to ask, “what’s next?”  But BJ Jones admits that very question crossed his mind on September 10, 2020 while he was working at the Creek Fire Incident Command Center in Madera County and someone announced that the hotel he was staying in, was currently on fire.

BJ Jones, president of FMESA and CalOES Law Enforcement Coordinator

“I was thinking, how is that possible, we are in a ‘warning zone,’ this area is not under evacuation,” said Jones, president of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Services Association (FMESA) and currently assigned as the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) Law Enforcement Coordinator on the Madera County side of the Creek Fire which has raced across more than 220,000 acres and destroyed more than 650 structures.

Jones points out that it’s just another example of what some are calling the absurdity of 2020.  The real story he sees is one of dedication by law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency response and support personnel, and the strength and courage of families who are suffering through an unforgiving fire season, periods of extreme heat, evacuations, unhealthy air quality, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns over civil unrest and whether children will be able to keep up with their education.

Jones’ main focus is coordinating the extra law enforcement resources requested by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.  He does this from the gym at Minarets High School which is the incident command post on the Madera County side of the Creek Fire.  The school has been his office since Labor Day, September 7th.

“The work that the Madera County Sheriff’s Office is doing is beyond remarkable,” said Jones.  “They are all hands-on-deck, all days off have been cancelled and they are putting in long hours to assist with evacuations and protect residents’ property once they have evacuated.  It’s a terrible state of humanity when people prey on fire evacuees. You have people who are losing everything and people trying to steal from them. But just when you lose faith, then you see something extraordinarily good, some beautiful act of kindness and generosity and it restores your faith, you have to focus on the good.”

Jones’ main focus is law enforcement mutual aid on the Madera County side of the Creek Fire – and there is a lot of it.   CalOES has called upon law enforcement officers from the:

  • Atwater Police Department
  • Bakersfield Police Department
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • California National Guard
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Delano Police Department
  • Dos Palos Police Department
  • Gustine Police Department
  • Kern County Sheriff’s Office
  • Kings County Sheriff’s Office
  • Livingston Police Department
  • Madera County Code Enforcement
  • Madera County District Attorney’s Office
  • Madera Police Department
  • Madera County Probation Office
  • Merced Community College Police Department
  • Merced County District Attorney’s Office
  • Merced Police Department
  • Merced County Sheriff’s Office
  • Taft Police Department
  • US Dept of Interior, Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement
  • USFS Sierra National Forest Law Enforcement

 

On the Fresno County side of the Creek Fire, law enforcement mutual aid assisting the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office includes officers from the:

  • California Highway Patrol
  • California National Guard
  • Clovis Police Department
  • Fresno Police Department
  • Fresno County Search and Rescue
  • Kerman Police Department
  • Kingsburg Police Department
  • Sanger Police Department
  • Selma Police Department
  • Reedley Police Department

“That’s a lot of men and women in law enforcement who are missing their families and missing out on life at home to help others.  They are in smokey conditions, indoors and out, we must remind them to be safe, to be one hundred percent on their safety situational awareness at all times, and that means being COVID-19 safe, washing hands, wearing masks, also watching where they step due to unseen hotspots, and the danger of falling trees that have been damaged or destroyed by fire,” said Jones.  “What really takes a toll is seeing the suffering that families are going through.   The loss, the destruction, the tears, it can overwhelm your heart.

Fortunately for Jones, he didn’t lose his room at the hotel in which an air conditioner caught fire.  Firefighters staying at the hotel and responding fire agencies doused the flames quickly.  But the incident certainly highlighted how quickly things can change in life and how 2020 has many of us shaking our heads, whispering, “what next?”

With the Creek Fire just 18 percent contained on the morning of September 16th, no one assigned to the blaze knows how long they’ll be deployed.

“All my heart is on the table here,” said Jones, “We are working very hard to protect when so many lives are so seriously disrupted, at the end of the day, Mother Nature is in charge.”

“We at the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) are constantly in awe of the law enforcement, public safety and consumer protection professionals we represent,” said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona.  “This year has put so many to the test and they continue to shine in their work to protect and serve California.   They have sacrificed, and their families have sacrificed, but it is their call to duty and their nature to respond in any way possible.   To all our members, thank you for your dedication and commitment. “

California National Guard Specialist Juan Cerna and Madera County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Zack Zamudio looking at the screen which tracks all of the mutual aid law enforcement deployed. At the request of Cal OES Law Enforcement, the California National Guard deployed assets and staff for officer safety. CNG staff issued field force tracking (FFT) devices so that law-enforcement can be monitored to ensure the safety of peace officers who are not familiar with the areas they are assigned while evacuating residents or while conducting security patrols. These devices also provide communication via satellite to warn officers of a fire moving towards them providing real time tracking. There is another team working directly with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Incident Command Team as well.

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