Wednesday Aug 31 2011
Another View: Fuel tanker fire tests character
By: Robert M. Weygandt, chairman, Placer County Board of Supervisors
Last week’s propane fire (in Lincoln) was both an emergency that easily could have turned into a disaster, and a major test of our community’s character. We all breathed sighs of relief when the flame was extinguished. Now that life is back to normal, it is important to reflect on how the community’s strength of character was on display during its response to the emergency. The Lincoln Police and Fire departments did an outstanding job. City officials worked hard on behalf of their community to make sure emergency responders and evacuated residents had the resources they needed. Residents of Lincoln who had to evacuate their homes deserve credit as well. Their patience and spirit of cooperation made a big difference. The response also was a testament to the importance of regional cooperation. As long as I can remember, all Placer County jurisdictions have cultivated a spirit of cooperation among local agencies, avoiding go-it-alone approaches. That holds true during emergencies, as well as the everyday affairs of local government. Through cooperation, local governments are able to use public funds more efficiently and to gain the strength to tackle problems that are best accomplished collectively. The vital role of regional cooperation during emergencies was apparent during the Gladding Fire in rural Lincoln three years ago. I was on scene that evening, and remember the first fire engine to arrive to assist Placer County Fire was from Lincoln. Later that evening, engines were arriving from as far away as Marin County. That spirit of cooperation was apparent two years ago in the response to the 49 Fire in North Auburn and last year to the fire at the Westfield Galleria in Roseville. This year, it was the Lincoln propane fire, which emergency officials dubbed the Nicolaus Incident. An army of emergency workers from many agencies throughout the area was on hand to assist with the ongoing response, and was prepared to take immediate action if the propane tanker exploded. The Nicolaus Incident benefited from major contributions from all of our cities; nearly all the fire protection districts; and state agencies such as California Highway Patrol, Cal Fire and the California Emergency Management Agency. There were very significant contributions from Union Pacific, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Kinder Morgan and volunteer agencies such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Local businesses contributed food to keep the emergency-response team well fed and provided assistance in other ways. Placer County assisted by providing more than 25 sergeants and deputies to help Lincoln Police evacuate and secure the area around the fire. The Public Works Department set up barricades while Health and Human Services assisted the Red Cross with its emergency shelters and coordinated transport and lodging for medically fragile residents who were evacuated. Animal Services, a branch of Health and Human Services, took more than 100 calls from residents concerned about pets and helped coordinate efforts to set up a pet evacuation center at a Rocklin park. The county Office of Emergency Services (OES) coordinated the county’s response and managed a call center staffed by employee volunteers at the county Emergency Operations Center in North Auburn. The team fielded more than 2,500 calls from the public, at a peak rate of 400 calls per hour. OES staffed the call center throughout the first night so evacuated residents could get their questions answered by real people, rather than listen to a recorded message. The Community Development Resource Agency pitched in by producing critical map products for OES that showed evacuated areas. Residents of Lincoln and communities throughout the county have a right to be proud of the response to the Nicolaus Incident. Community leaders’ first impulse was to do the right thing on behalf of Lincoln city residents. The Nicolaus Incident demonstrates once again how positive outcomes can be achieved due to our county’s culture of cooperation and willingness to think and act with the larger good in mind.