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Kirby: At the fire, my job was to stay out of the way

Published September 21, 2010 5:20 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When the fire came down the mountain Sunday night, Herriman's Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, went into action.

I didn't hold out much hope at first. Based on last year's CERT disaster drill, there was every possibility that we were all doomed. The drill had been about as effective as a sock hop.

After dark on Sunday, my neighbor wandered out of the smoke with the official word. Jason was our block's third assistant neighborhood emergency disaster warden. He might even be the second assistant now. The point is that he was in the know.

Jason said the evacuation status for our Herriman neighborhood had just been upgraded. The status for the past hour had been NERVOUS MILLING. Now it was MILD HYSTERIA. There was no telling when we might transition to RUN AWAY.

Scary as it seemed, our neighborhood was better off than the parts of Herriman where the evacuation status was already at TOO LATE.

I sat on my porch and watched the street. Normally a quiet avenue, it was now a busy detour for other blocked roads.

Cars and trucks ghosted through the smoke, hauling possessions and pulling trailers loaded with boats and horses. People searched for pets with flashlights. Everyone seemed to be leaving.

I decided not to wait for the official word to evacuate either. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of spending one night on a cot in a high school gymnasium against being dead forever, I shut off the porch light and went to bed.

In the morning, things had calmed down considerably. The mountain was fried and everyone exhausted. There was still a lot of work to do though.

I didn't plan on doing any of it. As far as I was concerned, I had been emotionally evacuated. It was my job to stay out of the way. But then another emergency coordinator called to give me the official word.

It was my neighbor Jolene, who had been put in charge of rounding up a labor force. Since forced labor worked just as well, she called me. She needed people to make 600 sandwiches for firefighters.

At the rally point, I helped unload food from a truck sent by the LDS Church. Lunch meat, fruit, bread, chips and lettuce were dumped onto long tables and we went to work making sandwiches.

For a short time, I was an official CERT mustard warden. When that didn't work out, I was promoted to stuffing finished sandwiches into bags. I managed to hang onto the job for several hours.

Around the room, I saw neighbors and people I knew from town who should have been at work or with their families but had instead volunteered to help. We took the lunches around to people who had risked their lives for us through the long night.

Lucky for me and the rest of Herriman, people kept on drilling after last year's CERT drill. When things started falling apart, they pulled us back together.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com.




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