Local Fire Departments Advise Emergency Preparedness

Oxnard and Ventura Fire share preplanning advice

By Lori Denman

Many people in local Ventura communities think back to the nights of the Thomas Fire and may also regret a lack of preparedness.

The Oxnard and Ventura Fire Departments personnel experienced many preventable mistakes during this particular disaster. Oxnard Fire Chief Darwin Base and Ventura Public Information Officer Steve Swindle shared messages of hope and education for the communities of Ventura County and encourage all to learn disaster preparedness.  The three disasters to prepare for in the local areas of Ventura County are fires, floods and earthquakes.

Photo provided by Oxnard Fire Dept.

Base has over 30 years of experience in the department, following positions as fire engineer, fire captain and battalion chief. He was instated as fire chief in November of 2016.  Swindle is a full-time public information officer for the Ventura County Fire Department.

Emergency Blunders

During the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, chaos ensued as communities were scrambling for safety. Within this turmoil, traffic built up on the roads and in its wake left a path of cars, causing a lack of space for the fire truck and emergency vehicle traffic. In order to ensure swift and safe tending to emergencies, community members should look into early preparedness

Aside from citizens’ preparedness, the City of Ventura should have been armed and ready as well.

“From what I understand by talking to residents, the City of Ventura experienced a power loss because of the fire,” Swindle explained. “Somehow, that outage affected the water supply system. There was a limited water supply for a period of time, which made it difficult to fight the fire. I am not saying definitively, but this is what I have heard from the residents that live in the area. The hydrants did not have pressure, so there was not enough water to be reached.”

Aerial water delivery with helicopters was used to combat both problems of blocked roads and lack of water to trucks due to the power outage. They were able to dip with buckets or straws, scoop and drop water on the fires.

Preparation is Key

The reason behind the built up traffic on roads with the Thomas Fire? Not enough early emergency preparedness, including the packing up of essentials and early evacuation. Two things to keep in mind for fire preparedness, as flames move fast.

“The rule of thumb is that with a large emergency, a person can expect to be self-sustainable with no assistance for a period of 72 hours,” Base explained to Citizens Journal. “We triage everything and all emergency calls are put into a line. So as you and your neighbors may need help right away, others have been waiting. So it is encouraged for every community member in every home to be prepared.”

In order to learn about emergency preparedness, people are encouraged to visit their local fire station and join the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) or log online to their site.

“Anytime anything looks suspicious, make a call to the law enforcement agency and report it,” Swindle said. “Especially if it’s a fire down at the river bottom. Personal preparation would help. The Thomas Fire was a perfect example. This includes having a plan on how to get out and how to get to safety.”

Swindle advises all community members to view the fire departments’ websites to learn about preparedness, safety, evacuation plans and how to become involved in the community. Ventura Fire has a program called, “Ready Ventura,” found on the site, ReadyVenturaCounty.org.

“For those persons who live up in the hills of Ventura, they should take extra time and leave their homes early or when given any evacuation orders and during a disaster,” Swindle advised. “With the Thomas Fire, it spread within a blink of an eye. It moved within six hours when it should have taken several days. A lot of people were left scrambling.”

The fire departments of Ventura County and City had to evacuate approximately 90,000 people, Swindle estimated.

“If everybody would take a little time to create a plan and take on their own personal responsibility, it would ease the burden on us quite a bit,” he added. “If they get out of their homes and out of harm’s way, then we don’t have to worry about them.”

As residents waited, the traffic on the hillside roads stopped flowing. The fire picked up quickly and spread to each residence. Firefighters begged residents to leave as they helped evacuate their horses. Residents continued to pack their cars. Then as they tried to drive down the hills, they were put into harm’s way as the fire spread faster than expected.

“Preparation was at the minimal and everyone was just operating on panic mode,” Swindle added. “This is why early evacuation is key.”

At the Water – Wait and Watch

While there are no lifeguards on the beaches of Oxnard during the winter and are of limited capacity year-round, there is the Beach Safety Patrol. This unit is comprised of firefighters who are USLA — Lifeguard Association qualified.

“If you do not know how to swim, we advise you to be careful of rip currents,” Base said. “Sit on the beach and watch the ocean, in order to watch the increase of surf or rip currents.”

Base sees the Beach Safety Patrol as “gap coverage.” In the absence of lifeguards, there are firefighters on the beach attending to emergencies and educating people. People are also encouraged to view the informative signs on the beach, which depict ocean safety and wave dynamics. Base hopes that someday, Oxnard will gain additional lifeguards.

Oxnard Fire Rescue tends to a plane crash on beach. Photo provided by Darwin Base.

Ventura County Citizens Helping Fire Departments

Visiting the fire station or logging onto their website to inquire of emergency preparedness is a good start.

Base praised the Inter-Neighborhood Council Organization (INCO), describing it as very beneficial to communities. He said that it is helpful and simple to sign up for classes where both fire and police come in on occasion and speak about what is happening within their departments.

“We encourage all to be a little more active in their community,” Base added. “For me, I try to go out and teach others about what we do. We are going to start having more open houses, where everyone can come in and tour the firehouses.”

Fire personnel venture out to schools and educate children. Consequentially, the children return home and teach their parents and families.


Lori Denman has been a professional journalist since 1996. She has worked as associate editor for the Los Angeles Daily News TODAY Magazines and has freelanced for LA Weekly, Surfline.com and more. She is the Ventura reporter for Citizens Journal.

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William Hicks

A great starting point for preparedness would be for all concerned people to take the CERT class (Community Emergency Response Team).