Three things became clear for Evergreen and Conifer first responders who deployed to the Marshall Fire in Boulder County.
First: Apocalypse doesn’t begin to describe what they saw in the fire in 100 mph winds that burned more than 1,000 homes in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County on Dec. 30-31.
Second: Our firefighters made a difference in the subdivisions they protected, while one team of paramedics helped evacuate a patient from Good Samaritan Medical Center and another treated firefighters for minor injuries.
Third: Our first responders know that if they put out a call for help, that help will come swiftly just like the more than 100 first-responder organizations did for Boulder County.
Foothills, Inter-Canyon and Indian Hills fire departments sent firefighters and paramedics to the scene as soon as the call for help went out on Thursday afternoon. They said while the scene was overwhelming, their training kicked in, and they did what they had to do.
The first responders agreed it was a fire of epic proportions, and the scene was surreal and chaotic.
“We were standing up a hillside and looking at the chaos and the glowing and smoke plumes,” Indian Hills firefighter T.J. Foreman said. “It reminded me of a historical photo of the London Blitz. You didn’t know where (the fire) would catch you. It’s the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen.”
They called the devastation horrible, and their hearts go out to everyone who lost so much.
“My heart aches after seeing all the damage,” Foothills firefighter Erik Alpine said. “There were people who left for work that morning, never thinking they wouldn’t have a home to come back to.”
Inter-Canyon paramedics called the scene “Armageddon,” noting that they saw flames 40-50 feet in the air.
Inter-Canyon paramedic Matt Araki called the fire’s massiveness hard to wrap your head around.
“It looked like a movie scene,” Inter-Canyon paramedic Suzannah Epperson added.
Helping at the Marshall Fire
Firefighters lauded the incident command team who did a herculean job of organizing and deploying resources that came from every corner of the state to help.
The Foothills crew was paired with a team from Longmont Fire, and they just got to work.
“On this call, we really made a difference,” Alpine said. “We were able to save a bunch of houses.”
Foothills firefighter Randon Grimes explained that they made the best of the situation and the resources they had.
“A lot of people lost everything,” Foothills firefighter Mike Amdur added. “To save one more home meant one more family had a home to return to.”
The Inter-Canyon ambulance transported a patient from Good Samaritan to a Longmont hospital, and Epperson said she was amazed at the long line of ambulances waiting to help. The ambulance team was sent home after delivering the patient to Longmont, with the paramedics noting it was disheartening that they could go home when there was so much to be done.
“It’s like survivor’s guilt,” Inter-Canyon paramedic Matt Araki said. “We are fully prepared, equipped and trained, and they say, `We don’t need you anymore.’”
The Indian Hills ambulance crew worked most of the weekend, acording to paramedic Bob Fager, available to aid firefighters with injuries. Luckily, injuries were minor, mostly firefighters getting something in their eyes thanks to the high winds.
The Indian Hills firefighters were stationed in a subdivision right off of McCaslin Boulevard, paired with firefighters and a truck from Denver to protect as many of the 100 homes in the subdivision.
“Our job was to provide structure protection,” Indian Hills firefighter Ben Copithorn said. “One home was fully involved (in flames) when we got there, and we got to work right from there. It was a pretty surreal experience.”
In this kind of emergency, command structure doesn’t matter, and everyone knew their jobs and did them.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better team to be working with,” Indian Hills firefighter Tom Henery said. “We had no other thoughts but to save buildings.”
The Indian Hills firefighters figure while three homes burned in the subdivision they were in, they saved about 97. After a very long night, a man drove up and jumped out of his car. He gave them huge hugs, thanking them for saving his house.
The first responders said they became closer after working the incident, and they experienced what they already knew: They have each other’s backs.
“I appreciate the camaraderie we shared,” Alpine said. “It made the three of us (Foothills firefighters) stronger. We know we have each other’s backs and will get the job done.”
First responders said they brought back the experience and knowledge they gained while at the Marshall Fire to impart to fellow first responders. Though they can talk about the experience, nothing compares with what they have been through together.
Having each other’s backs is not simply for individual fire departments. It’s statewide.
“I don’t know how many different agencies responded,” Grimes said, “but they responded saying, `What do you need?’ Even though (Foothills Fire) is small and rural, it was obvious we were all in it together.”
Foothills firefighter Mike Ambur added: “We’re all one team.”