More than 35 years ago, in June of 1985, my friend’s father asked me to be a seasonal firefighter at his fire station in Mojave. Although my uncle had been a firefighter, at 19 years old, I had never given a thought to a career. During that summer, I developed “the calling.” I could not believe I had found a career where I could serve my community, was expected to be physically fit, and would be counted on to make smart decisions every day. Becoming a firefighter became my goal. Little did I know what a challenge it would become.
After taking required firefighter classes and gaining work experience, I had several options of where I could apply to be a firefighter. I chose the Kern County Fire Department because it is an all-hazard (structure fire, wildland fire, earthquake, flood, vehicle extrication, medical assistance and many more) fire department that serves a huge geographic area. In addition to the unincorporated areas of Kern County, the Kern County Fire Department also serves the cities of Arvin, Delano, Maricopa, McFarland, Ridgecrest, Shafter, Taft, Tehachapi, and Wasco. We also serve the citizens of Bakersfield City through a Joint Powers Agreement that allows reciprocating assistance between the Bakersfield City Fire Department and Kern County Fire.
Kern County covers an area of more than 800,000 square miles. Such a large area produces unique challenges. Kern County has different geographic areas with a variety of emergency types. We have rolling hills, mountains, desert, metropolitan areas, rivers and many small communities — some separated by great distances. This distance means that the initial first responders arriving on scene are often by themselves for upwards of 30 minutes.
Over the past several years, the Kern County Fire Department has faced many challenges. The cause of the challenges and the solutions to the challenge can be debated. What cannot be refuted is that over the years, the amount of time your Kern County Fire Department has spent mitigating emergencies has significantly risen. In 2019, Kern County Fire equipment responded to emergencies totaling almost 62,000 hours (there are 8,760 hours in a year). Almost half of those hours were at fires. The number of calls rose 5.89 percent in that same year. In 2019, the Emergency Communications Center handled 436,962 calls. That is an average of 1,197 calls per day! Incredible!
This year, the world has been affected by the COVID-19 virus. Our biggest fear was that we would have a day when so many of our personnel were ill that we would not be able to provide the service we strive to provide. Early in the pandemic, we developed policies and procedures to reduce the risk to our first responders. These are tedious and time consuming, yet our firefighters have adhered to them, day in and day out. At the time of this writing, only six of our firefighters have become ill. Fortunately, they have experienced mild to moderate symptoms and are already back serving our community.
Thirty-five years have flown by in the blink of an eye. As the deputy chief of operations, I take great pride in knowing that we have one of the best all-hazard departments in the country. Your Kern County firefighters are ready, both physically and mentally, to mitigate any emergency incident.
I am often thanked for my service. While thankful when this happens, I am always humbled and slightly embarrassed. Our families are who have earned the real thanks. They “loan” their loved ones to protect and serve for sometimes a month straight. So next time you meet a child or significant other of a firefighter, please take a second to tell them “thank you for your service!”
Sean Fraley is deputy chief of operations of the Kern County Fire Department.