Hundreds of Weary Firefighters Sleep, Shower, Regroup at Chabad

Hundreds of Weary Firefighters Sleep, Shower, Regroup at Chabad

Early Sunday morning, Rabbi Y. Brod talks with members of the Fire Department at Chabad of Running Springs.

by EJ Tansky - Running Springs, CA

October 28, 2007

Streams of firefighters caked in soot and sweat made their way up to Camp Gan Israel at Chabad of Running Springs, where they found food, hot showers and a place to sleep off the exhaustion of fighting from the Slide wildfire that has burned over 11,000 acres in the San Bernadino Mountains.

Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef Brod, representative to Chabad of Running Springs, counted 25 fire engines on the campsite, and told that about 350 firefighters slept, ate and showered there in shifts, over the last 24 hours.

Some even enjoyed the chulent, or Shabbat stew that Rabbi Brod served up on Saturday.

“The firefighters do not stop saying thank you for our hospitality,” says Rabbi Brod, himself sleep-deprived by now.

“They tell us the people down the mountain should be thankful. Our help gave them strength to save their homes.”

Battling raging fires since Sunday, many firefighters have gone 35 hours straight without sleep. Their fatigue is such that many had been sleeping near their trucks, on the hard asphalt streets, not even removing their heavy jackets to rest. But those who made it up the 6,600 ft to Chabad of California’s retreat received a very different reception.

Thursday afternoon, scores of firefighters slept in Chabad’s buildings on the 72-acre site, as Rabbi Brod served up the next round of hot roasted chicken, tuna fish sandwiches, cold cuts, and coffee to the next shift of firefighters as they arrived. 

“At a place like this in the mountains, forty miles from anywhere, you have to be well stocked,” said Rabbi Brod.

At five a.m. Friday morning, they prepared breakfast for the crew setting out for another full day of work.

One firefighter told Rabbi Brod, “When we’re fighting a fire, we’re homeless. We sleep under ambulances, but you gave us a bed. We haven’t showered since Saturday night, and you gave us a place to shower. To say thank you is not enough.”

Friday morning, Rabbi Brod was re-fueling generator tanks to accommodate the firefighters over the Sabbath. Electricity to run the refrigerators and light the cabins came from generators that usually run the campsite’s private waste treatment works. If not for that, they’d have been in the dark. Fire consumed the wooden poles carrying the area’s electrical lines.

But out of concern for the firefighters’ wellbeing, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, head representative of Chabad of California sought the electrical company’s help to restore power to the site. Rabbi Cunin became quite emotional, pleading to up Chabad’s place in the repair queue.

Within hours, the city had restored electricity to Chabad of Running Springs.

“We have 200 beds and more mattresses. I don’t want firefighters sleeping on the floor,” he said.

By Saturday, there were about 350 firefighters at Chabad of Running Springs.

Beyond helping to sustain them, the camp’s pool was continuously being used as a water source to fight the fire from the air. Copters swooped down, filled their bambi buckets to the brim, and flew off to douse the flames.

Chabad’s generosity of spirit impressed Brian Naylor, a firefighter with FDNY’s Engine Company 281 in Brooklyn. In the heat of the battle, he said, firefighters make do cooling off with wet towels.

“It is a nice feeling to know that those rabbis are thinking about us in that sort of way when they could be worrying about their own property.”

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