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San Onofre Fire Trucks Come to Big Creek’s Rescue

The volunteer fire department now has a fire truck, hazardous materials rig and ambulance thanks to the recent donations.
By Justin Felles

When a fire is raging out of control, the last thing first responders want to worry about is whether their fire truck will start.

But that was a daily concern at the Big Creek Volunteer Fire Department in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which has depended on an aging 1971 fire engine for emergency calls. The crew can rest a little easier now thanks to a recent donation of a fire truck, hazardous materials rig and ambulance from Southern California Edison.

The vehicles were used by the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Fire Department until the plant began decommissioning. Since then, some of the generating station’s equipment which is no longer needed has found new homes.

“We were kind of concerned with where some of our equipment would go,” said Bob Koop, a firefighter at the San Onofre fire department. “We thought the trucks would be fared out across the country.”

The mountain community is home to SCE’s Big Creek Hydroelectric Generating Station. The fire department was started by residents and is operated completely separate from the utility.

“SCE is just our biggest customer, if you want to call it that, in the sense of coverage for buildings and employees in the community,” said Jeremy Canell, former Big Creek fire chief and SCE hydro station operator.

When Canell first heard San Onofre would be decommissioned several years ago, he started reaching out to see if the trucks could be donated to Big Creek, which badly needed a reliable fire engine.

“Some things just don’t work as well as they age and you have to find ways to get around that,” he said. “This department became very good at getting around those challenges, but in emergency situations, every second counts.”

After months of back-and-forth talks about a donation, Canell’s persistence paid off.

On a hot summer morning, Koop and fellow San Onofre firefighter, Wayne Richter, met with the volunteers and handed over the truck keys.

As the vehicles left the garage, Koop held back tears while he waved goodbye to his old friends — the trucks — and his new friends, the Big Creek volunteer firefighters.

“We’ve known this was coming for about 2 1/2 years,” Koop said. “I really feel good about what we’re doing because these guys really appreciate the equipment. And what they’ve heard about San Onofre and our fire department — it’s a bigger brotherhood than I imagined.”

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