Looking after Madera County and battling its fires and non-criminal calls are the firefighters with Cal Fire.
Not to be mistaken with Madera City Fire, which is also contracted with Cal Fire, Madera County handles calls both outside and (sometimes) inside Madera’s city limits. Their work takes them into the hills, Chowchilla, and the wilds of Madera County.
Contracted by the State of California, the Madera County unit of Cal Fire operates out of 14 stations, five of which are staffed. With the exception of a station near Chuckchansi, which has two firefighters, they are all run by one person at a time. This makes them lone first responders in a fire, a medical emergency arrive, or any other call. They are alone on a 48-hour vigil.
“If you get a big structure fire, it can be overwhelming for one person,” said Cal Fire Capt. Les Russell, who has been serving Madera County for the last 15 years.
In addition to their work in putting out vegetation and structure fires, running medical calls, and helping in accidents, they also do rescues in the wilderness, vertical rescues in mountains and rappel. In addition, they have a hazmat unit to respond to dangerous spills and chemical threats.
One of Cal Fire’s biggest services to the community, however, is fire prevention. With such small numbers, any help from the public in safety is always appreciated.
“Cal Fire has prevention, but at the station level, we go to schools,” Russell said. “It depends on their age. If you go to a class full of kindergartners, they don’t retain much. Their big highlight is seeing the engine come in, and they get to squirt a little water. They don’t get much out of it, but you start there, and as they get older, they get to actually do a little education, and teach them the basics.”
They also teach adults on proper protocol for sprinklers, smoke detectors, and how to avoid fires. Escape protocols for families are also stressed by the Madera County Fire. When prevention and protocol fails, however, the public in Madera County relies on Cal Fire.