ROSEMEAD (CBSLA.com) — A local firefighter who trained a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Arizona wildfire Sunday has spoken about the life-threatening dangers elite crew members face on the job.
L.A. County Fire Department Engineer Roy Rodriguez said this weekend’s tragedy brought back a stream of memories about the close calls he and his fellow firefighters have experienced on duty.
Rodriguez told KCAL9’s Louisa Hodge he was back at work with a heavy heart on Tuesday, remembering the 19 firefighters who lost their lives when the lightning-ignited forest fire in Yarnell became unmanageable.
Rodriguez became a member of an elite Hotshot crew in 1989.
But like the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, his team was also overrun by an out of control blaze 20 years ago in the the Glen Allen Fire in Altadena. Two of his crew members were killed.
Decades later, the memories are still fresh.
“I remember it like it was yesterday and it just brings back all the feelings,” he recalled.
“There’s so much smoke and heat outside that you’re trying to basically dig a hole with your hands into the dirt to try to gasp for some fresh air,” Rodriguez said.
A few months later Rodriguez experienced another deployment during a fire in Pasadena. Rodriguez credits portable fire shelters with saving his life.
He remembers being in a shelter for 55 minutes during the second blaze, and the overwhelming experience of feeling trapped with no idea of what conditions to anticipate.
“The feeling is bad because you don’t know what is going on outside,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect.”
Rodriguez went on to become a mentor to aspiring firefighters.
He trained Granite Mountain Hotshot Kevin Woyjeck at an explorer academy, and remembered the 21-year-old from Seal Beach as a young man with a lot of potential.
“A young, great kid with great enthusiasm,” Rodriguez said. “I know he aspired to be a L.A. County fireman.”