‘Lone Firefighter’ takes on Foresthill fire

Bystanders pitch in on blaze at side of road
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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A lone firefighter responding to a blaze off Foresthill Road on Saturday is being praised for his cool-headed response controlling its spread.

Engineer Randy Hinkle, a firefighter with the Foresthill Fire Protection District, found himself alone at the Todd Valley station Saturday afternoon after the two other emergency personnel stationed there had to leave on an ambulance call off the Foresthill Divide to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital in North Auburn.

Shortly before 1 p.m. dispatch alerted Hinkle to a fire about 2 miles west on Foresthill Road and he was soon in a fire engine driving solo to the scene, mapping out his narrow range of options.

The fire had grown to about a half acre by the time Hinkle arrived and was soon to spread into tinder-dry trees.

“I was thinking about what I could do on my own and what the risks were,” Hinkle said. “I thought of my wife and I thought of my community. This is my job — short-staffed or not, I do what I can.”

Passersby had already approached the fire with buckets of water and he was able to enlist some of them into a makeshift platoon of volunteers to run a hose close to the fire and them move the hose as he attempted to halt its progress.

“One bystander asked me ‘Where is everybody else?” Hinkle said. “I said “This is it.”

More firefighting resources arrived at the fire, including a Cal Fire crew from Bowman about 12 miles away and an airplane that provided a fire retardant drop.

The fire would eventually burn 1.4 acres before being controlled. Hinkle is being hailed for his ability to get on the fire in a solo action aided by bystanders.

“When you’re the only one onscene it’s unusual for fire protection,” said acting battalion chief Matt Slusher, who works with the Foresthill district as part of an agreement with Placer Hills Fire Protection District. “It’s a significantly increased risk for a firefighter because no one’s watching your back.”

Slusher said he and the district “couldn’t be more proud” of the actions Hinkle took on Saturday to get on the fire and get it controlled.

On the Foresthill Helping Foresthill Facebook page, responses included a description of Hinkle as “a true hero.”

There were also posts about a measure on the September election ballot asking Foresthill residents to pay more to fund costs to have more firefighters on duty and to re-open a station in downtown Foresthill closed earlier this year.

Slusher said that another firefighter stationed when an ambulance is required to drive to Auburn is a question that voters will have to decide.

“But we can better protect the community with four personnel rather than three,” he said.

For Hinkle, the firefighting work continues — including the times when he is left alone at the station anticipating the next call for a fire and what he’ll do.

“Every time an ambulance transports, I’m alone,” Hinkle said. “And that means my mind starts turning again to what I can do.”