Speed Reads

being proactive

Volunteers in Southern California work together to stay 1 step ahead of fires

Smokey Bear has nothing on Ray Hutchinson and Lynda Armbruster.

Hutchinson, a retired fire captain, and Armbruster, a retired college professor, are two of the 238 volunteers with the Orange County Fire Watch (OCFW) in Southern California. Started in 2006, OCFW volunteers go out to canyons and foothills during dry, windy days when the fire threat is high, to look for smoke, flames, and suspicious activity. Their goal is to stop fires before they get out of control, and on average, there are volunteers on patrol about 20 days a year.

The volunteers — who undergo hours of training and learn first-aid techniques and CPR — also try to educate the public on fire safety. In a typical year, the OCFW reports four smoke or flame sightings, and even more volunteers provide treatment to hikers they meet experiencing medical emergencies, The Christian Science Monitor reports. 

Residents regularly show their appreciation by delivering cookies and treats, but the volunteers don't do it for the gifts. "You protect what you love," Armbruster told the Monitor. "It's like people who rescue animals. You have a thing that captures your heart."