Brian VanVickle spent two weeks sleeping in a tent and working 16-hour days in an emergency trailer in California.
The Ogle County Sheriff was tasked to help California Instant Management Team 13 fighting wildfires at Sequoia National Forest out west as a public information officer. VanVickle is part of a state team that fielded a federal request for the position.
“It’s been a long fire season out west,” VanVickle said. “The two weeks I was out there I was doing media relations. Several of the giant trees caught on fire. We handled the media in the area. I flew back home Wednesday.”
VanVickle worked with first responders from all over the country including people from Florida, Utah, Idaho and Colorado. This was Team 13’s 16th operation fighting the fires. Fire crews from Mexico came to help, marking the first time that’s happened in U.S. history, VanVickle said.
“People were tired and needed help,” VanVickle said. “That fire has been going for two months.”
As sheriff, VanVickle has always placed an emphasis on emergency response, practicing for drills involving the Byron Nuclear Plant often and dealing with past county events like the F4 tornado that hit Rochelle in 2015 and the Aug. 10 wind storm that hit Forreston this year.
“We’ve always said, even before the tornado, we were successful because of practice in nuclear drills,” VanVickle said. “It was another opportunity to be able to assist and learn.”
VanVickle said the team he worked with out west was part of a national system. Over 1,000 people were working to fight the fire over the two weeks.
The concept of emergency management got its start in fire, VanVickle said. He’s trained to address any event whether it’s weather or civil unrest. He got to see how response worked on a larger scale in California.
He was able to attend planning, command, cooperators and general staff meetings relating to the incident.
“When we have a local or state incident we have the same meetings so it was very beneficial to participate and bring that operational knowledge back,” VanVickle said. “I always think it’s important. Emergency management and practice, it helps residents recover sooner. That’s always been the focus.”