Airman superimposed portrait on top of backdrop of fires in  California mountains.

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joan E. Jennings, U.S. Navy and portrait pulled from video.

In this file photo, an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land in Camp Pendleton, Calif., following a mission assisting the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection with aerial water drops against wildfires in San Diego County. Senior Airman Andrew (pictured below), a sensor operator with the 178th Wing in Springfield, Ohio, provided critical support to firefighters and rescue crews during the historic wildfires in California during the summer of 2020, helping save hundreds of lives.

178th Wing sensor operator’s support saves hundreds of lives during California wildfires

Video by Staff Sgt. Zachary Tateman, 178th Wing Public Affairs

Story by Story by Staff Sgt. Rachel Simones, 178th Wing Public Affairs

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (02/26/21)

Ohio National Guard members answer when called upon, whether operations are domestic or overseas. An Ohio National Guard sensor operator answered California’s call during last year’s wildfire crisis. With little notice, Senior Airman Andrew volunteered for emergency state active duty orders to provide fire relief.

Andrew (his full name is not being disclosed due to security considerations) arrived at March Air Reserve Base Aug. 30, 2020, and provided support for about the next month. He worked with service members from different states and career fields to help push back against encroaching flames.

Airman Andrew

There were several days where ash from the El Dorado fire was falling on us and fire was visible on the nearby mountainsides.

“There were several days where ash from the El Dorado fire was falling on us and fire was visible on the nearby mountainsides,” Andrew said. “It was a very ominous feeling. From the air, once we were above the clouds and smoke, it looked like an orange blanket had been placed over California for miles. Using infrared technology, we could look through the smoke and see fires raging down below, which looked like huge chunks of land filled with lava. While I was there, we had over 28 active wildfires burning all across the state. With over 4 million acres currently burned, devastation would be an understatement.”

Service members worked together to save the lives and land affected by the furious fires.

“While working with the 163rd Attack Wing, we conducted multiple missions including fire line mapping, search and rescue, firefighter overwatch, structural damage assessments, structure defense, spot fire searches, providing imagery and live video feed to firefighters, assistance with air to ground fire suppression efforts, and fire information (speed, growth rate and size),” Andrew said.

During Andrew’s time in California, he saved 214 people who were surrounded by fire with no means of escape. He also saved a large group of firefighters unknowingly in the path of a rapidly expanding fire line and redirected them to a safe escape route. Additionally, he found a new wildfire moments after it began and provided support that led to a timely, 100% containment. His life-aving achievements highlight Ohio National Guard members’ dedication to readiness when their communities need them.

“You get an immense amount of pride being part of something like this,” Andrew said. “Seeing the extremely dangerous work the firefighters are doing on the ground, and getting to be a part of keeping them and the public safe, is truly an honor.”

Although the fires still smoldered after Andrew left, he made a lasting impact on the lives he saved and the service members he worked with.

“Leaving was bittersweet,” Andrew said. “I got to become part of the 163rd family, and we did some incredible things together. Leaving such an amazing mission that still wasn’t complete was difficult, but I know it was left in good hands. I was proud of the work I did, and left knowing that I made an impact.”