Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones
Photo credit: Los Angeles County Fire Department
On Aug. 30, 2009 -- the fifth day of the Station Fire -- Los Angeles County Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones made the ultimate sacrifice when they were killed in the line of duty while protecting the lives of their fellow firefighters.
Sixty-three people working with them, including fire department personnel and fire suppression inmate crew members along with their correctional officers from the California Department of Corrections at Camp 16 were saved because of their efforts.
This month, Hall and Quinones are being honored by Firehouse Magazine as recipients of 2009 Heroism & Community Service Awards.
"We're all gratified and appreciative to Firehouse for acknowledging Ted and Arnie. We are deeply appreciative," Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said in an interview with Firehouse.com. "It's a loss that we will always feel."
As the flames approached Camp 16, the order was given for crews to report to the dining hall refuge area. A planned firing operation to provide a buffer from the advancing fire front was initiated by Capt. Hall and Firefighter Specialist Quinones on a mid-slope road just below the camp and running parallel to the ridge.
The camp is located on a mountain ridge, 5,600 feet in elevation, approximately six miles west of Angeles Forest Highway inside the Angeles National Forest, and even miles south of the community of Acton. It is one of five inmate fire camps operated by the fire department in cooperation with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
During that time, it became apparent to the personnel inside the dinning hall that the building had caught fire. Command was given to prepare fire shelters for deployment in anticipation of exiting the structure. As the fire crested the ridge, flame lengths were in excess of 200 feet. At that point the camp was abandoned and the inmate crew was ordered to move to vehicles. Shelters were deployed and used to protect the personnel as they moved from the building to the vehicles.
When no response was received from Hall and Quinones, the battalion chief ordered a search of the area.
It was later discovered that the captain and firefighter specialist attempted to do everything they could to keep the fire from overtaking the camp and in doing so reached a critical location in the road before their vehicle was overrun by flames. They lost control of their vehicle and went over the side of the access road and plummeted more than 800 feet.
Their vehicle and bodies were later discovered in the ravine to the south of the camp.
"They were great firefighters, their leadership and skill was highly reguarded by everyone," Freeman said. "There was a communicated plan that was reinforced and everyone executed it to the very best of their ability."
After the Station Fire approached the camp, it continued to burn through its facilities until approximately 6:30 p.m. Thirteen other personnel received minor burns, smoke inhalation and eye irritation injuries.
The Station Fire was the largest vegetation fire in Los Angeles County history and was the tenth largest vegetation fire in California history.
The Station Fire was declared fully extinguished on Oct. 16, 2009 and had burned a total of 160,557 acres. Investigators from the U.S. Forest Service, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles County Arson United determined the cause of the fire was arson.
Following the loss of the two heroes, they were honored at a memorial service at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 12. Among those in attendance included Vice Present Joe Biden and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Following the tragedy, Chief Freeman said the department has worked to make sure such an incident does not reoccur. One issue he has been focused on is assessing the facilities at the camp grounds.
"There is a sense of pride and ownerships in these camps. Hall's crew had been working for about two years to try to make it as fire resistant as possible. We applaud their initiative but understand that there needs to be further assessment of the facilities."
Another area he wants to work on is communication.
"We want to reinforce our current procedures as far as radio frequencies to be able to communicate at a given incident. With all of the different agencies involved we have to rely on different frequencies so it is important that we able to communicate."
Freeman said his department's crews also have to be made aware of the dangers during a wildfire.
"We going to drill our advisories down in clear cut do's and don't so they realize what the potential threat is," he said. "We're familiar with plume dominated fires, but we don't encounter that frequency in the county. We want to be sure all of our people know the significance of that."