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Park City firefighters deploy to Georgia

PCFD firefighters perform three-week tour for wildland fire help

Two firefighters with the Park City Fire District are shown fighting a fire in Clayton, Georgia, last month. Three firefighters were sent on the three-week deployment to help battle wildland fires. They returned on Dec. 2.
(Courtesy of Zane Thompson)

When firefighter Zane Thompson established Park City Fire District’s engine deployment program four years ago, he says he never anticipated fighting fires so late into the season and around the holidays.

Earlier this month, Thompson and two other firefighters, Tyler Heesch and Justin Jolley, returned from a nearly three-week deployment in Clayton, Georgia, after helping battle the wildland fires that were burning through several states.

“No one supports the fire district better than the Park City community, but, if there was one, it would be the people of Clayton, Georgia,” Thompson said. “They took care of us like no others had before. They were some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever been around and they had a great Thanksgiving for us. It was unbelievable.”

Thompson said he had considered taking Park City off of the national deployment list because “it was getting so late into the season.” But, at around 11:40 a.m. on Nov. 11, he got a call about a deployment to Georgia and he had two hours to get a crew together.

“This one took a little bit longer to organize because of how far we were going to be traveling, but within about three-and-a-half hours I was on the road with the two guys who were going with me,” Thompson said.

About two weeks before the deployment, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee were being ravaged by more than 15 fires a day, Thompson said. Two arsonists have been charged with starting several of the fires.

“They were not used to 20,000-acre fires. They had no one in that area so they were pulling resources from Utah, New Mexico, Montana and Arizona. Pretty much most of us out west,” Thompson said.

He saw engines from Utah County, the North Fork Fire Department and Unified Fire Authority while there. They also worked with crews from Arizona and Michigan.

Thompson, who has been on nearly 20 deployments over the past four summers with the Park City Fire District, said this deployment was different.

“When we are out west we have our own tents, cots and sleeping bags. We usually sleep in a big field anywhere there is an open spot. But back east, they won’t let us use our tents because there are so many bugs and snakes,” Thompson said. “They had everyone stay in hotels, or where we stayed, at a camp for kids. We had cabins and showers. It was nice.”

Thompson also said this deployment was more arduous for his family. His wife is a nurse in the emergency department of an area hospital and they have three school-aged children.

“It’s tough for the family when I’m gone fighting fires, but they have been very supportive and great. It’s just harder this time of the year,” Thompson said. “But I love being able to get out and fight fires. We have been around the West and the communities there are just really grateful you are here and helping.”

Thompson said the deployments provide invaluable training for the members of his crew, allowing them to traverse new typography and extinguish fuels that are different from what they are used to. He added, “It’s also incredible meeting the people.”

“They have never been around fires like that before. One of the homes we had been around, the man was around my age, and he had a wife and newborn kid. He was so excited and grateful when he saw an engine, and we were at his house for four or five days straight. He was in awe,” Thompson said. “He wanted to know everything we did and that part was all new to us, to have people want to get right in and help us. That was unbelievable. I have never seen that before. He was 100 percent all in with us and that was neat to experience. We have new experiences everywhere we go.”


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