Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost is used to the hundreds of calls his department handles: house fires, accidents on I-95 and the Merritt, false alarms.
As the town’s director of emergency management, he plans for and coordinates responses to hurricanes, blizzards and, now, a virus pandemic.
But he’s a professional. And as millions of acres burn out west, he and Deputy Chief Michael Kronick answered the call.
The pair are members of the Connecticut Interstate Wildfire Crew. It’s our contribution to a national mutual aid pact. Members help states on an as-needed basis, with any kind of weather event.
(And yes, Yost says, Connecticut has wildfires. The most recent were around 1940.)
This summer, Connecticut sent firefighters to several western states. Yost — who was posted to Idaho and Wyoming in 2016, and Montana in 2018 — went this year to Colorado, as a medical assistant.
Assistant Chief Kronick also served before, in California and Colorado.
Yost got the call this year at 11 p.m., on a Saturday. The next day, he was on a plane to Ft. Collins. The 100,oo0-plus acre Cameron Peak fire threatened homes, and the University of Colorado mountain campus. It is still only 4% contained.
Yost and his crew set up structure protection. They ran hoses and pumps, wrapped homes in preventive material, bulldozed lines and started back fires.
It’s nothing like fighting a Westport fire. “This is a long game, and a logistics war,”” Yost says. Feeding and supplying 1,000 firefighters takes as much coordination as the actual firefighting.
COVID complicated everything, of course. Rather than one central camp, firefighters were deployed to “spike” camps that reduced co-mingling.
For Yost, the opportunity to observe incident management was important too. He sat in on planning meetings, with the command staff. The insights he gained will serve him well in planning for, and reacting to, disasters here, he says.
Whatever they are.