Sanibel Fire PIO Shares Experience Working on West Coast Wildfires

by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez

Samantha Quinn. SC photo by Chuck Larsen

On Sept. 10, Samantha Quinn left Sanibel to aid in the Oregon and Washington wildfires with two bags in hand. One filled with gear— public information tools, boots, and a tent—and the other with her clothes and toiletries.

“I was excited to go back out and help the forest, and the community out there, because I hadn’t been out on an active deployment since 2018,” Quinn said.” So you get nervous and excited and all those things.”

About a year and a half ago Quinn joined the Sanibel Fire Department where she works as an administrative assistant and public information officer (PIO). Before then she worked for the Florida Forest Service, where she received her PIO qualification, and then the National Park Service.

With her qualification in the system and having marked herself available for deployment she was asked to assist at the devastating wildfires on the West Coast due to short staffing.

She received the call will working at Sanibel Fire and “of course” she said yes. Not very long after she was boarding a plane to Oregon. Once in Oregon she made her way to her designated basecamp where she set up her tent for the trip.

Basecamp was filled with tents lodging various different resources including laundry facilities, kitchens, and support for vehicles. It was filled with dozens of people including firefighters, the commanding general staff, a cooking crew, and the public information team.

“It’s literally like its own little city,” Quinn said.

In the public information tent, Quinn was the lead PIO. She worked closely with the Incident Commander, facilitated meetings, managed two PIOs below her, and set up schedules for press releases.

Her job was to get information from commands and the people underneath them—the firefighters, division supervisors, etc.—and spread it to the public. The PIO team worked to reassure the public and keep them in the loop of things.

“We just want to make sure everybody is safe and of course [out] of areas they should not be in or [inform] them of areas that should be open,” Quinn said.

During her time there Quinn got to see the unforgiving force of a wildfire. She specifically recalled the time she drove through the Archie Creek fire and witnessed the weakened trees.

She described the site as devastating, and was grateful for opportunity to help the affected communities.

“I was grateful to be able to go out there and help the community. I think that’s really important that with all of the things that we have going on that we’re still able to help others,” Quinn said.

There were more like Archie Creek in what Quinn explained was a “really devastating wildfire season” for the West Coast. Together the fires have burned approximately 2.2 million more acres than the 10-year average, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

The East Coast isn’t exempt from these disasters. In Sanibel, prescribed fires are conducted to keep them from happening while also promoting new vegetation growth. The Sanibel Prescribed Fire Task Force is responsible for the prescribed burnings.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of prescribed burns and what to expect you can find more information at mysanibel.com.

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