Colorado Guardsmen Battle Fire on Father’s Day
By Army Staff Sgt. Jecca Geffre
Colorado National Guard
EL PASO COUNTY, Colo., Jun. 17, 2013 The Black Forest fire is keeping at least 150 Colorado National Guard members busy, including those fathers who were away from home yesterday on the day set aside to honor them.
Soldiers from the Colorado National Guard’s 1157th Engineer Firefighter Company smother hot spots around residential areas in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 14, 2013. The Colorado National Guard has been supporting civil authorities in fighting the Black Forest fire since June 11, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard McMullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Official reported today that the 22-square-mile blaze that has killed at least two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes was 65 percent contained.
Army Staff Sgt. Shane Merlihan, 1157th Engineer Firefighter Company, was been so concentrated on the mission yesterday that he didn’t realize it was Father’s Day. As a full-time firefighter in his civilian career, he said, his family is accustomed to him being away on special days.
“My family understands it’s a sacrifice I make -- not only for my country, but for the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s just a day. We’ll celebrate it Monday -- or two weeks from now, if that’s when I get home. We’ll make that Father’s Day no matter what day it is.”
Merlihan said he tries not to have his own worries on his mind while on mission. Safety for firefighters is paramount, and it’s necessary to focus on the task at hand. “No time to let your mind slip,” he said.
Army Lt. Col. Bren Rogers, Task Force Security commander overseeing the National Guard reaction force, said many fathers were out providing security for the community and those in her command are honored to do their duty to help families who are suffering.
“It’s a higher calling,” she said. “When you see the citizens who have gone through such tragedy, it’s worth the sacrifice to support them.”
Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Jarvis, 947th Engineer Company, is a red-card certified heavy-equipment mechanic working with the 1157th firefighters. He and his team are protecting structures by “prepping,” a task that involves moving anything made of wood away from the house, repositioning propane tanks, scraping back any flammable liquids, and directly attacking spot fires by hosing them down with water and digging firebreaks with hand tools.
He has three girls, ages 9 to 15. Jarvis said he applies himself to getting through the days away from them by making sure the job is done right so people can come back and find their homes still standing.
“When it’s your neighborhood -- your city -- and you’re watching it burn, you want to help,” Jarvis said.
As a Guard member who has deployed several times, he said, his being gone on a mission is something his family has dealt with before, but service to the community also is a big priority. And his family understands and supports him.
“You miss holidays [and] birthdays. … We’re doing what only a few people do, and take pride in it,” he said. “When I see my daughters playing, I do it so they won’t have to.”