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Last thing on their minds is rest

Newport-Mesa stations work in 24-hour rotating shifts at the Santiago Fire.

October 24, 2007|By Joseph Serna

Newport Beach Fire Department Capt. Mike Liberto took slow, deliberate steps up the stairs at the Lido station. He’s tall and athletic, but he looked glassy-eyed Tuesday afternoon. So did the rest of his crew.

How’d they feel?

“Tired,” they said in unison.

Liberto, fire engineer Keith Hedenberg and firefighters Kevin Gonzalez and Jason Fernandez had returned only hours earlier from a two-day duel with the Santiago Canyon fire.

Tuesday was their chance to rest up at the Lido Station on 32nd Street for the next 24 hours before one may head back out.

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Most of the unit gets today off. Liberto, working overtime with Engine 8, could be on his way back into the hills this morning, his fourth straight 24-hour shift.

His regular schedule calls for him to work at the station Thursday, too, which would make it 120 straight hours of work on minimal sleep.

When it seems fires are starting up faster than they are being put out, rest is the last thing on a firefighter’s mind, they said.

“Things like this are so rare. Every firefighter in the state wants to go out there,” Liberto said. “There are way too many fires out there for us to be sitting here. But we always have to make sure the city comes first.”

Indeed, while both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach fire departments each have contributed four engines and 17 and 18 firefighters, respectively, both cities remain fully covered.

“We’ve gone as far as we will,” Costa Mesa Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw said “We still have our responsibilities to our citizens here.”

Both stations are now working in 24-hour rotating shifts out at the Santiago Fire as part of strike teams, a five apparatus, 21- to 22-man unit with a specific mission.

When they rotate home, if they don’t have the day off they go back to routine coverage for the city, which they said has fortunately been light.

“We get rest when we can,” Hedenberg simply said.

Firefighters routinely cover for each other when a big blaze breaks out. If all available Costa Mesa firefighters responded to an emergency in the city and another emergency erupted, a neighboring city’s fire department like Santa Ana’s or Huntington Beach’s would fill the gap.

“It works pretty good,” Santa Ana Fire Department Capt. Andy Ogren said.

The Lido station firefighters acknowledge that they need rest and understand the city’s needs come first, but when a neighbor needs help with a disaster it goes without saying they will be on it.

As they sat at their table upstairs in the fire station, the firefighters had the TV tuned to a local channel.

The camera panned across a scene of the fire, revealing the Newport Beach engine that had just relieved Liberto’s unit that morning. All of their eyes locked onto the screen.

“There’s a little bit of, ‘I don’t want to leave,’” Liberto said. “It’s hard to watch the news and not be out there.”


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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