“We didn’t start the fire It was always burning Since the world’s been turning We didn’t start the fire No we didn’t light it But we tried to fight it’ – Billy Joel


Yesterday this memory popped up in my Facebook memories. I’ve seen it everyday for the last eight years. The first few I remember thinking how lucky I was. Duane was okay. The next few I was angry. Angry at the City of Reno for laying off so many firefighters, angry that their “guys” were forced to work 18 straight hours in some cases, waiting from relief from California and surrounding areas. I’m tearing up as I write this. Tearing up that so many lives have been altered and lost because the city balanced their budget on the backs of the firefighters.

There were the initial incidents. Over 10 million dollars in damage, 43 homes destroyed or damaged, two fire fighters injured, multiple others treated for smoke inhalation, flying debris, foreign objects in their eyes and one citizen had a fatal heart attack while being evacuated. It was a horrible “incident” for the area. 

I remember this day, it’s etched in my memory. I knew right away I would never forget but I could never have imagined the impact that this fire would have not only on Duane and I’s life but on so many others. 

We had moved to back to California a few months prior. Reno was going down the toilet and Duane needed a place where he could go and relax and not be stressed out. As a captain at the busiest station he was not sleeping. He would come home exhausted and and stressed. He was so angry with the city council and couldn’t believe his friends were getting laid off. He KNEW there would be major incident soon. 

Back to my story … 

We had spoken the night before and said goodnight. On the morning of November 18, on my way to work, I called him, he didn’t answer. Not common but not anything to get worried about. As I got closer to work I tried again – nothing. I walked in to the restaurant and immediately froze. All the news stations were covering a major fire in Reno that had started in the middle of the night. I ran to the TV turning it up so I could hear everything that was going on. There were some retired SF firemen sitting at the bar, yes already, and they just looked at me and said this isn’t good. They convinced me to stop trying to get a hold of him. He was dealing with enough and didn’t need to be worried about me, worried about him. His mom called seeing if I had heard anything – she hadn’t either. 

The fire was bad. The news just kept showing the footage, the devastation. Sacramento and San Francisco had been been called in to help. I mean, Reno didn’t have enough fire fighters – they were at the staffing levels from the 1970s. 

I spent the day scared and worried, constantly checking my phone. I received a text from him, saying he was ok, still on the fire and would call as soon as he could. I foolishly felt relief. 

When we finally spoke he told me that his relief came in from San Francisco. He had been on the Caughlin fire for over 18 hours. It said it was bad. They lost a lost of homes and cars. It was devastating. He was so upset that they hadn’t been able to save more, to do more. 

When he came home he even more angry, so many people had lost everything. The wind was bad that night, there wasn’t defensible space between all the homes and nature and they were understaffed. They did the best they could. He couldn’t get over the fact that part of this horrific “incident” was the city’s fault. 

We moved on. There was another major fire two months later. This time 29 homes were destroyed and there was over 5 million dollars in damage. Duane couldn’t believe how bad this was getting. It was so sad to watch him emotionally suffer over the horrible loss that all these people were dealing with. 

Fast forward a year … the twitching had started. The toxin levels in his blood were through the roof, lung capacity was lower and his life was ending. 

Can we say for sure that the Caughlin Fire was the “incident” that cause Duane’s ALS? No. But should we look at that as a possibility? Yes. Should we take a poll on all the fire fighters that were on those two fires and see what their neurological status is now? Yes. Should we poll all those same firefighters and see what their lung capacity is now? Yes. Should we dive deep into the records and see how many firefighters experienced life changing symptoms after these two fires? Yes. Should new see how many of them had to take an early retirement due to their declining health. Should we see how many of those health factors are proven to associated with inhaling toxins and smoke on fires? Yes. Do we need to do a better job protecting our first responders? Yes. 

I believe, as did Duane, that November 18th was the day his life changed forever. Please next time you get asked to vote to increase your taxes for fire departments think of Duane and the many, many other first responders who have given their lives to save yours.

– xoxo Victoria

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