Published December 14th, 2016
MOFD Firefighter Reflects on the Ghost Ship Fire
By Nick Marnell
Firefighter Lucas Lambert surveys the remnants of the Ghost Ship. Photo courtesy Lt. Mark Tait, East Bay Regional Park District
Lucas Lambert got the call at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Of course he knew why. The Oakland Fire Department needed help, and as a member of the East Bay Incident Management Team, an inter-agency all-risk firefighting unit, Lambert took off to International Boulevard and 31st Ave. - the Ghost Ship fire.
"We are an all-risk team that responds to incidents that go beyond a 24-hour period," said the Moraga-Orinda Fire District firefighter-paramedic, who reported to the incident command post at the Wendy's Restaurant across the street from the live-work space fire that killed 36 people.
The three-alarm blaze began late on the night of Dec. 2, and the fire had been extinguished long before Sunday morning. What OFD needed was a safety officer, an officer to provide for the care of the firefighters, and that became Lambert's assignment. "Someone to stare back and take in the big picture," he said. "As firefighters we often get so focused and so task oriented, we need to keep everything in balance."
So he had to go into what was left of the building and learn the details of the operation, which at that point had phased into recovery mode. Lambert had to confirm that all firefighters' personal protective equipment was functioning properly and not compromised by the high amount of particulate matter still in the air. He checked the structural integrity of the building with the structural engineers who removed drooping material from the walls that was in danger of collapsing onto the firefighters. "The walls looked like a wet cracker," said one of the engineers.
Lambert also participated in firefighter stress debriefings.
Right about the time Lambert arrived at the building, firefighters were removing the dead from the rubble. One of the firefighters told Lambert that he knows that he pulled bodies from the building, but he remembered nothing of the specifics.
"Anyone who entered that building would be lying if they say it didn't affect them," Lambert said. "Every time that you respond to something like this, it takes a little bit out of you." Out of respect for those affected, Lambert would not go into detail of what he witnessed.
"Personally, it wasn't something that I wanted to see, but I feel comfortable with the work that we did for the victims and their families," he said.
And also for the responders. The industry has progressed far from the tough-guy culture and recognizes the needs of the firefighters who often have difficulty after, and sometimes during, the fact. Assistance programs are available at the county level for long-term stress and psychological issues, but Lambert said that the firefighters still feel most comfortable talking with each other.
"No human being should have to witness this," commented one of the first responders. But human beings do exist who are not only able to witness a tragedy like this but able to mitigate the disaster.
Those human beings
are called to the firefighting profession.

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