Gulfport Firefighters Head Out For California Relief

Gulfport firefighters often respond to calls for help but not usually the kind that require a boarding pass. Half a dozen firefighters packed their bags and headed to California.

"We don't know what our assignment is going to be when we get there but whatever it is we'll do the best we can," said Battalion Chief Mark Ballman. "The fire department is a brotherhood. It doesn't matter if they're in California or here in Gulfport. We're all brotherhood, and they came to help us. We're going to help them."

Wildfires have already engulfed about 1,500 homes and more than 410,000 acres in seven southern California counties including San Bernadino county which came to Gulfport's aid with equipment, money and supplies after Hurricane Katrina.

"They helped us out after Hurricane Katrina, so I'd like to give back what we can," said Battalion Chief Dean Morrow. "We appreciate all the help they gave us, so (we'll help) any little bit we can help out."

Gulfport's fire chief says the city called San Bernadino County to ask what was needed. He says the very next day a call came from California asking for firefighters with command experience.

Chief Pat Sullivan said, "We're sending six of our chief officers out there, guys that had gone through Katrina that know how it is to deal with a major emergency, know how it is to deal with a large group of individuals involved."

As firefighters give California crews relief for much needed rest, the Gulfport crew also has much to gain.

"It's definitely going to be a learning experience going out there and dealing with something that is that large scale," said Morrow. "It is going to be 15 to 20 times the magnitude that Katrina was with the amount of people that's out there. So we'll be providing a service, but we'll also be bringing back education we can share with our fellow firefighters."

Fire Chief Pat Sullivan says the firefighters should be gone about four days. More could be sent later if necessary.

The other volunteers are: Deputy Chief Billy Bragg, Lieutenant Alan Agent, Lieutenant Kevin Goveia and District Chief John Self.