Fighting fires from above

Flying at  178 mph, Copper 19  zips over the huge flames devouring acre after acre of Duarte and Azusa foothills in Southern California.  Twenty five year LA County Fire veteran, Michael Dubron feels the pounding heat and choking smoke as a small camera on his helmet captures the water suddenly spilling out from the bottom of the helicopter.  Flames lapping up at the Sikorsky FireHawk are suddenly smothered by the sticky material, and white smoke engulfs the crew as it flies by.

“We go into battle mode,” says Dubron.  When they “hit the flames just right,” as you can see in some of the videos he has posted on Twitter, “there really is a sense of accomplishment.”  Even after 18 years with the LA County Fire Air Ops?  “Oh yes,” he adds “especially when we don’t lose a life or any homes.”

He always refers to “us” or “we,” when talking, though.  It’s never been about him, but about the people he works with.  Last year, the five members in his unit were recognized for their life saving efforts during a dramatic mission in Simi Valley.  They managed to get to the driver of a truck that had stumbled down a canyon, which had started a fire.  

The man had crawled into a drainage pipe, and Copter 19 lowered Firefighter Paramedic Jeffrey Duran into the opening of the pipe.  Since the flames were reaching into the pipe, the crew also released water, carefully, so as not to block the pipe with debris.  The man was hoisted up, and he is alive today.

Michael Dubron’s images on his twitter feed gives us a sense of what it’s like to be inside Copter 19 – the excitement, the danger, the thrill, even a good dose of queasiness if you are not used to hanging out of a helicopter while going over 150 mph inside an oven.  

As good as they are, though, they are not the biggest source of pride in his life. There is his family, of course, and the fact that as a cancer survivor, he is the founder of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, which has done amazing work.  People tend to think of firefighters as saviors and invincible. But they are not and the group has helped a lot  of men and women across North America and around the world. 

So it really is about teamwork, in more ways than one.  Check out the organization and the videos on Michael Dubron’s twitter feed, and enjoy.

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