As Firefighter Elvis Hernandez put on his gear and climbed into Engine 96 on the afternoon of November 8, little did he know he would be one of the first to arrive on the scene of the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County’s history – the Woolsey Fire.
“When we stepped out of the engine we were slammed with 30 mph wind gusts,” Hernandez said. “Flames were everywhere. Combined with the wind, we knew this fire was going to be big.”
Hernandez and his crew responded to the fire at Susana Field Laboratory site, more commonly known as “Rocketdyne,” from Chatsworth’s Fire Station (FS) 96. They quickly extended more than 800 feet of hose line through the rocky hills and brush to combat the fire as it was driven west by the wind. Equipment provided by other agencies throughout the day allowed the hose line to ultimately extend to 1,600 feet.
“We were on the fire for 12 hours before we finally headed home,” Hernandez said. “Once we got back, we started getting things ready for the next shift in case they got called back out…and they did.”
Over the next two days Hernandez could see the towering column of smoke in the distance as he worked other duties at FS 96. He recalls how much it meant when members of the community stopped by the station to donate food and other supplies to say thank you. Later Hernandez was on his way to the Rocky Peak Fire that quickly closed the 118 freeway and threatened homes in Simi Valley. Upon their arrival, he and his crew quickly engaged in structure protection of the houses closest to the fire.
“There was so much smoke coming down the hills, there was a time I couldn’t see people in front of me,” Hernandez said. “We laid our hoses out and started moving backyard furniture in case the fire got close.”
Helicopters from the LAFD and other agencies managed to halt the flames about 200 feet away from the homes. While the bulk of the fire was stopped, Hernandez and his crew stayed vigilant and doused hotspots throughout the afternoon.
From fighting brush fires, responding to medical calls or helping the community in other ways, Hernandez has always had a passion to serve as a first responder. He was inspired to join the fire service after watching firefighter/paramedics save his little brother who had accidentally cut his forehead open 16 years ago.