After the 2003 Cedar Fire was finally put out, a great deal of criticism was raised about the response to the fires. Most of the criticism focused on lack of preparation, lack of coordination and lack of resources. A report by a blue ribbon commission contained many recommendations that were eventually adopted. Overall, the general consensus seems to be that response to the fires this year has been vastly superior to the response in 2003.
One of the biggest criticisms raised was the fact that a vast array of military fire fighting resources were available, but not put to use. Both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines have large installations and aviation assets like the CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters which can carry water-dropping buckets. At the time of the 2003 fires, military radios were not compatible with the frequencies used by state and local fire agencies. Military polices at the time also prohibited use of their resources until use of civilian resources had been maximized. That has since changed.
FAST FORWARD TO THE PRESENT
On Monday morning, I got a little irritated when I started hearing media reports about the early lack of use of military aircraft to fight the fires. So I decided to call some of my local representatives about this issue. My plea was for them to pull whatever strings they could to get the necessary approvals from President Bush of whoever needed to sign off on the use of military aircraft to fight theses fires. Here are the responses I got:
Duncan Hunter: Duncan Hunter represents my district in Congress. When I called his local district office, his staff told me the he was “already on it” and rattling of a list of things that he had already done. Now I will admit to being a little biased because he is a fellow Republican and my leading choice for President, but that was exactly the response I was looking for. Mr. Hunter gets an “A” for being proactive
Barbara Boxer: Barbara Boxer is the junior Senator from California. The staff member I spoke with there wasn’t even aware that local military aircraft available to fight fires. They noted my ZIP code and promised to “pass the message along”. Ms. Boxer finally made an appearance in San Diego 3 days after the fires started. Ms. Boxer gets a “D” for being uninformed and slow to respond.
Diane Feinstein: Diane Feinstein is the senior Senator from California. Ms. Feinstein’s staff was waiting for a formal request from Governor Schwarzenegger for activation of military units. Say what? You’re going to stand on protocol when lives and property are on the line? Governor Schwarzenegger had already made a formal request and had activated National Guard troops to help. Ms. Feinstein gets an “F” for not only being uninformed, but for waiting to be for a formal request for help before acting. That sounds like what FEMA did when talking to the state governments after Katrina.
I expect my elected officials to be informed and proactive…to anticipate problems and try to deal with them before they grow out of hand. In this case, two of our leaders failed and one came through. Fortunately, I do not believe we can blame any exacerbation of fire damages on the lackluster senators from California.
About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.