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Marines should have been used to help fight Southern California fires

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Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2003 10:00 pm | Updated: 6:36 pm, Wed May 16, 2012.

The recent fire storms which devastated Southern California have ended.

The tragic results include nearly two dozen dead, thousands of homes and structures destroyed, hundreds of thousands of acres burned and a yet to be tallied millions of dollars spent to fight the conflagration.

Firefighters from all over California were sent south to help local departments which were overwhelmed by the enormous walls of flames.Bob Johnson

Gov. Gray Davis reached out to neighboring states for additional manpower and equipment. Elements of the National Guard were alerted to assist in the effort.

Let's not kid ourselves. Fighting this fire bordered on combat. Those men and women who participated in this all out war performed professionally and heroically. No one should doubt that lives and property were saved because of their efforts. Newspaper and TV reports were filled with stories and photos of exhausted firefighters coming off the fire line while their barely rested comrades marched doggedly back to the front.

We owed them nothing but the best support we could muster in the form of back up manpower and equipment. I just wonder if we did all we could!

I have to guess that it took eight or 10 hours for men and equipment to get to Southern California from this neck of the woods. I haven't a clue how long it would take to get there from Colorado, one of the states tapped for support.

It amazes me then that we didn't tap a government resource less than 100 miles from any of the fires.

There must be at least 20,000 Marines stationed at Camp Pendelton who should have been drafted to the fight. If these Marines can saddle up and move out for Iraq in two days they most certainly would have been able to get to the fire lines in a few hours. They are physically fit and can follow orders. Engineer units have heavy equipment that could have been used. Bulldozers, graders, even helicopters are part of the Marine arsenal which could have been brought to bear in this mess. I can't help but believe that a Marine chopper pilot who is good enough to insert troops into a hot LZ is capable of getting a bucket of water to the fire line.

In a conversation with Lodi Fire Chief Mike Pretz, he correctly points out that the firefighters are experienced professionals while the Marines lack the requisite skills necessary to battle a fire of this magnitude.

But my point is that there must have been any one of a number of jobs available to the Marines which would have relieved a firefighter for other, perhaps more important tasks.

Recent press reports tell of area firefighters who spent most of their time down south far removed from the fire area. In fact, many of them sounded almost ticked off that they weren't closer to the action instead of cutting brush around homes and structures. Could Marines have freed these men and many others for a shift on the fire line where their experience counted most? I'll bet they could.

Don't get me wrong. These professionals did a magnificent job. But I'll bet none of them would have turned their backs on some additional outside support.

♦ ♦ ♦

If you checked the letters to the editor in the News-Sentinel recently, you must have noticed numerous letters written in support of the recent dramatic action taken by Councilman Larry Hansen.

By now just about everybody in town knows that Hansen chased down and apprehended a teenager allegedly driving recklessly at a high rate of speed around town.

A 30-year police veteran and former Lodi police chief, Hansen certainly has the credentials to pull this off. Ordinary citizens would most likely hurt themselves and possibly others in such a pursuit. In addition, there would have been a very good chance that the bad guy would have escaped.

Despite this outpouring of support, there are numerous people around town who think Hansen made a mistake.

Lodi Police Capt. David Main stated he didn't "advocate anyone pursuing a suspect." Main went on to say that "the safety of all citizens is paramount in our eyes" and that "the department prefers that citizens not physically confront suspects."

A lot of people can almost hear Hansen making the same pitch before his retirement and wonder why he wouldn't follow his own advice now that he has turned in his shield.

Bob Johnson is a member of Lodi's Parks and Recreation Commission. He may be contacted by e-mail at value@softcom.net.

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