North Texas firefighters made a short pit stop in New Mexico on Wednesday.
Firefighters from multiple local departments, including McKinney, Lewisville, Flower Mound and Frisco, were returning to Texas after serving as a strike team to help quell wildfires in California.
Before they could make it home, however, they had one more job to take care of.
Capt. Ronnie McCarroll with the Flower Mound Fire Department remembers seeing a column of dark and light smoke from the highway. The light smoke indicated a grass fire, he said, and the dark smoke meant some sort of structure or car fire.
As traffic on the highway slowed to stop, the strike team’s leader approached the local officials to ask if they needed help. The responding team seemed to be limited on manpower, said Mike Roberts, a captain with the McKinney Fire Department, and accepted the help and supplies that the Texas strike team had to offer.
An 18-wheeler loaded with lettuce had crashed into what was either a motor home or a camper — the opinion differed on what kind of vehicle it was, but both Roberts and McCarroll concurred: there wasn’t much left of it at the end of the day.
The accident had also caused a nearby grass fire.
“Once we get up to where everything's going on, everybody starts bailing out of their vehicles, and we're having to jump up on top of our rigs, which is where everybody has their big duffel bag that has all of their gear and stuff in it,” McCarroll said.
Firefighters threw protective equipment on over the shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes they had been wearing and went to work.
Frisco Fire Department Capt. Adam Hadowsky said while the terrain in New Mexico was different from what the team had experienced in California, firefighters can’t treat one fire in a lighter sense than the other.
“Especially when vehicles are involved,” he said. “You don't know what they were carrying. And if the wind picks up, it can make those grass fires travel fast. So you have to get on them.”
Members of the team split up to help with both the vehicle and grass fires.
“It's almost just kind of understood,” McCarroll said. “Work needed to be done, and there's really not a lot that needed to be said.”
Roberts said the grass fire wasn’t too big yet, but with the wind blowing, it could have taken off.
“I think that's the part they were thankful for, is they just didn't have the people to take care of everything at once,” he said. “Probably saved them a lot of work, anyway.”
As a whole, the stop probably took roughly 45 minutes, and strike team members arrived in Texas on Thursday afternoon. Hadowsky said he couldn’t remember exactly how long the stop took.
“It was kind of one of those things where it happens so quickly, you jump out, you help them out and once they're done, you load up all your stuff and get on the road again,” he said.
For Roberts, the unexpected stop in New Mexico was indicative of the connections firefighters have with one another.
“That's what we're always looking forward to doing. That's why we headed out to California, is we got a chance to help people and help the other fire departments,” Roberts said. “So it's kind of one of those things. It doesn't matter where you go. Firemen always take care of firemen.”