Firefighter Killed Fighting California Fires

Oct. 30, 2003
The California wildfires have claimed their first firefighter victim. The firefighter, Steven Rucker of Marin County, is the 20th person to die in the fires, which as of today have claimed 650,000 acres and destroyed nearly 2,500 homes.

Rucker was killed when the wind, which has made fighting the blazes across the state so treacherous, suddenly changed direction and engulfed a fire truck that held him and three other firefighters. One of those men is in critical condition with burns over 28 percent of his upper body.

International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger is urging elected officials to increase staffing and resources for the stretched fire service in California. Schaitberger visited camp sites and reviewed damaged lands on Oct. 29.

"This event, like so many others have in recent years, from midwestern floods to Southeastern hurricanes to 9/11, clearly illustrates our nation's vulnerabilities to large scale disasters. When we cut resources to the bone for everyday operations of first responders, we are not ready when a major emergency happens. When the worst happens, where can we find the staffing and other assistance necessary to provide the desperately needed help?" Schaitberger asked.

He said he was glad to see that the state of California is now directing all possible resources to fighting the wildfires and assisting the fire fighters. He was harsh in his criticism of the response from the federal government, however.

"The federal government's efforts to send $2 billion in aid might be reassuring to some, but the fact is that money is needed right now – if not long ago – in the form of reinforcements on the ground for my fire fighters, not an IOU check down the line. My fire fighters are fighting with one hand tied behind their back in California, and in cities and towns all across America, and I can tell you that to a person they would give anything to have the help yesterday, so their brothers and sisters could be adequately protected from the extreme dangers they face today."

Schaitberger said the IAFF would "like to extend our sympathies to those who have lost their homes, and especially their loved ones, to these blazes, the worst such disaster in over a decade. It is beyond the pale to think that much of this destruction was apparently deliberately caused – whether by simple carelessness or the felony of arson."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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