MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
With approximately 70,000 Marines and families living on the installation, Camp Pendleton is a self-sufficient small community in the middle of San Diego county. The community takes pride in having some of the best services and organizations know in the Department of Defense. One of these organizations is the MCB Camp Pendleton Fire Department.
The MCB Camp Pendleton Fire Department opened its doors in 1942. Since then, the department’s personnel have been in charge of ensuring that the families on the installation can rest easy and stay safe. To keep fires from running into residential areas or into the surrounding communities, the department cuts roughy 200 acres of firebreaks each year. In 2016, the fire department was named the DOD fire department of the year, and was responsible for more than 3,700 emergency responses.
“Our true mission is to support the warfighter,” said John Crook, the deputy chief with the Camp Pendleton Fire Department. “The training mission requires this service to support the warfighter and maintain the safety of their families.”
The department has 11 stations on the installation and over 100 firefighters. The stations are all equipped with standard firefighting equipment, but some are strategically placed around the base and carry specialized gear for the areas they are in. The stations located closer to training areas are equipped with vehicles and equipment that would be used for wildland fires, but stations stationed near housing communities and Interstate Highway 5 are equipped with more rescue and aid equipment.
Each firefighter in the department is trained in emergency medical services, firefighting skills and hazardous material operations at a minimum, but firefighters will continue to train and receive other certifications and qualifications while on the job at MCB Camp Pendleton. Through experience and additional certifications the firefighters may be in charge of paramedics or vehicle operations. The firefighters are in charge of providing medical aid and transportation for vehicle accidents, sports injuries, training incidents or any other medical emergencies, so it is important that the department stays up to par with any training they may need.
During their first year working on Camp Pendleton, a firefighter must complete a career development plan. The material gone over during the first year reiterates the basics to ensure nothing was forgotten from their schooling. Training is crucial because they are expected to respond to wildfires along with being first responders for other types of emergencies on MCB Camp Pendleton.
MCB Camp Pendleton facilitates training for the Camp Pendleton Fire Department and several surrounding agencies. The impact zones and training areas allow for unique wildland fire training opportunities. This allows for interagency training and it also creates a strong bond with departments in the surrounding communities.
“Through mutual aid, we support each other,” said Crook. “Its unique here because the real estate we have allows us to provide wildland fire training.”
When not actively engaged on a call, conducting training or cutting firebreaks, the personnel stay in the station, preparing gear, cooking meals and enjoying each other's company. The department values camaraderie because during a fire the firefighters must trust that each individual will perform their tasks successfully.
“We are always happy to get together when we get a chance,” said Joe Laparl, a firefighter with Camp Pendleton Fire Department. “We are especially grateful to get together at the end of the day for dinner at the station during fire season.”
Working together in 48-hour shifts, the teams commonly build bonds and share stories. Though there are no active duty service members among the department, there are many veterans from all branches of service. On occasion, the Camp Pendleton Fire Department will employ Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Marines stationed on Camp Pendleton after their end of active service.
“Prior to joining the Marine Corps, being a firefighter was always something I wanted to do,” said Nicholas Potthast, a firefighter with Camp Pendleton Fire Department. “After I got out, I decided to make firefighting a career.”
The Camp Pendleton Fire Department is an essential part of the mission accomplishment for Marines on MCB Camp Pendleton. With the men and women of the department on watch, Pendleton Marines can continue to train without fear of fires.