TAVARES — Lake County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Randy Jones was deployed early this morning to Idaho to help manage the massive Clearwater Complex wildfire that has grown to 64,000 acres and destroyed more than 40 homes and nearly 80 buildings.
Chief Jones will serve as Structure Protection Specialist for the Southern Area Incident Management Red Team with the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). He will be among 900 fire personnel working the wildfire.
“My main priority will entail coming up with a written plan on the ground, and figuring out what it will take to protect the homes,” said Jones. “We will be creating evacuation plans, determining what equipment and personnel are needed, discussing what type of gameplan to put in place, as well as how we are going to go about executing it.”
The veteran firefighter, who began his career in Lake County as a volunteer in 1984, is well trained in fighting wildfires and responding to large-scale disasters, having worked Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004, Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, as well as a handful of Midwest wildfires.
In the mid-‘90s I was just a grunt on the ground going out on hand crews,” said Jones. “I progressed and trained until I got a chance to get on a state overhead team, and four to five years ago I worked myself onto the federal team. It’s a long process, but you just have to stick with it and get all the training you can.”
While Jones takes a matter-of-fact approach to firefighting, the job is clearly not without danger. In fact, three firefighters died on Wednesday during a fast moving wildfire in Washington. Still, Jones said he doesn’t have any special rituals or superstitions before he sets out on a dangerous deployment.
“My bag stays packed 365 days a year, 24/7 so I just have to pull it out of the closet and go,” he said. “We always pack for the worst and hope for the best. Each fire is different, but for this one, we will be sleeping in tents for the full two weeks.”
Lake County Public Safety Director Chief John Jolliff said Chief Jones is a great example to Lake County Fire Rescue’s newer firefighters of the value of continued training.
“Chief Jones is a wonderful asset not only to Lake County Fire Rescue, but to agencies in need nationwide during times of crisis,” said Chief Jolliff. “We wish him a speedy deployment and look forward to his safe return to Lake County.”
For more information about Lake County Fire Rescue’s operations, visit www.lakecountyfl.gov/firerescue, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LakeCountyFireRescue, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lakefirePIO.