Vandenberg learns from civilian fire captain

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Steve Bauer
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
Up in the hills of Santa Barbara, fire captain John Crotty stares out over a desolate piece of land once inhabited by more than 20,000 people.

Wind sweeping through the walls of the valley begins to provoke an already agitated wildfire. The heat from the blaze causes sweat to fall from a saturated bandana nestled under the fire captain's hard hat.

The sweat is quickly mixed with the dirt from the captain's hand as he attempts to clear his eyes. He pulls out a pair of binoculars from his utility vest. With both hands he adjusts the lenses to get a better view of the Jesusita wildfire.

The captain carefully watches for any changes in the fire's behavior, because his experience has taught him never to take your eye off a fire.

"I have been fighting fires for more than 20 years, and there is always the sensation of intensity when facing fires," said John Crotty, a Vandenberg 30th Civil Engineering Squadron fire captain. "You have to be very focused and have to be in tune with everything that is going on around you to make the right decisions about the safety of the crew and the safety of yourself and still meet the objectives of what needs to get accomplished to fight the fire."

The 13-year fire captain and his crew from Vandenberg Fire Station 4 were called on to help combat the recent Jesusita wildfire in Santa Barbara May 5.

The protection of residences near the fire was the main objective of the captain's crew while in Santa Barbara. The crew has been working hard to remove items around the evacuated houses to avoid the possibility of nearby objects catching the properties on fire. Captain Crotty's leadership shines through as he melds military and civilian firefighters together equally.

"Captain Crotty treats everybody fairly," said Eric Patarak, a Vandenberg fire captain. "He always takes the time to teach his firefighters and remains proactive as he works along side of them. He gives everybody a chance and never shows favoritism."

Even as a civilian, Captain Crotty's leadership naturally complements that of the military personnel at Vandenberg. 

"The firefighters at Vandenberg are willing to do whatever the captain asks because he is highly respected here," Mr. Patarak said. "He is the type of person we all trust because we all know he constantly thinks about our safety."

The crew of Vandenberg's Fire Station 4 is very important to Mr. Crotty. Once, a few members from the crew where scheduled to move to another station. When Captain Crotty found out about this, he quickly made arrangements to do everything in his power to keep his crew together and he was successful, said Mr. Patarak.

"If the firefighters have a good leader, they are going to want to work for that person," Mr. Crotty said. "Hopefully, I can provide my crew with many opportunities, like fighting the Jesusita wildfire, to keep them motivated and excited about their job. I think this helps us build team camaraderie because we have a really good crew at our station who all seem to get along really well."

Lowering his binoculars, Captain Crotty takes a moment to take accountability of his crew members. Knowing the firefighters are safe is the captain's top priority. With one last deep sigh, the captain realizes that he has done everything in his power to accomplish the mission and keeping his crew members safe as the sun begins to sink below the ridges of the Santa Barbara hillside. Tomorrow will be another day for the captain and crew.