Anzar is a volunteer fire captain at Station 61 in Chinese Camp

By GUY McCARTHY The Union Democrat



Alberta Newspaper Group


Among the Mother Lode frontline workers who have toiled at their jobs through more than a year of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is Robert Anzar, a volunteer fire captain at Station 61 in Chinese Camp. Anzar, 42, was raised in the Jamestown area. He attended Jamestown Elementary School before he went to Summerville High School, where he entered the fire science program and became a Cal Fire Explorer Cadet in ninth grade and earned first-responder certification by the time he was 16. Anzar completed a six-month volunteer firefighter academy and became an active Tuolumne County volunteer firefighter at 18, when he was still a junior at Summerville. He graduated with the Summerville class of 1998 and did a two-week Cal Fire wildland firefighter academy at Ione, and he's been driving the same water tank truck, Tender 618, for 24 years. Asked about challenges he faces as a frontline worker during the pandemic, Anzar said, “The challenge is to do my best to protect myself, my wife and our five kids.” Together, he and his wife are raising a 10-year-old girl, a 13-yearold boy, 15-year-old twin girls, and an 18-year-old boy. “I have to make sure as a first responder that I'm not bringing something home.” Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Tuolumne County and the rest of the Mother Lode, volunteer fire department medics and other first responders were always supposed to wear gloves on all medical calls. Since the pandemic began, Anzar said, they have had to wear gloves and masks on all medical calls. When Anzar and other first responders go to a medical call or any other call that is COVID-related, they limit their exposures by selecting one individual first responder to go inside the home or business, or wherever the medical call is located. That individual first responder has to put on a full complement of personal protection equipment, including a mask, face shield, gloves and a gown. “if we know that call is COVID-related, then only one of us goes inside,” Anzar said. “That person has to be in full PPE.” Anzar always changes out of his firefighting gear at the end of each shift or each visit to Station 61. Sometimes he will take a shower at Station 61 to further ensure he is not carrying home anything that could lead to his wife and children catching COVID-19. He always changes out of whatever he wears at work and back into his civilian clothes before he goes home to his wife and children. “We're using a lot of hand sanitizer, all the time,” he said. “We carry it in our vehicles and in the engines, and we keep it at the station. Any time we touch anything, we're reaching for the hand sanitizer. We take extensive precautions out there in the field.” On vehicle crashes, Anzar and other first responders often work with patients who are unconscious and have to treat them like they have COVID-19. Having to wear masks while doing crash rescues can lead to fogged-up protective gear, Anzar said. Very often, firefighters using Jaws of Life and other crash extraction equipment like roofcutters and door-cutters have to also wear masks to prevent coronavirus spread underneath their safety glasses or safety goggles. When safety glasses or safety goggles fog up, rescue work has to stop for a moment while those with rescue tools in their hands take a moment to clear their vision. “Since the pandemic started we're dressing in full PPE,” Anzar said, “like we're going in to perform surgery at the hospital in the operating room.” Anzar is a rope-rescue technician as well as an auto-extraction technician. Station 61 at Chinese Camp has a helipad for air ambulance helicopters onsite, so he often has to respond and help ensure helipad landings and take-offs are handled correctly. He estimates he's already responded to several helipad incidents so far this year, and he probably does at least a couple air ambulance calls a month on average. Anzar has been driving Tender 618 for more than two decades, and he says it's time to replace the old workhorse. The Tuolumne County Fire Department first took ownership of Tender 618 in 1995, three years before Anzar started driving it. The original chassis was a rental tractor trailer with a million miles on it, but the county had it modified to be a water tender. The county paid about $240,000 for three water tenders back in the mid-1990s, or $80,000 per tender. These days, replacing Tender 618 will likely cost in the neighborhood of $300,000, Anzar said. “Taxpayers got their money's worth on Tender 618,” he said. “But it's time for this one to be replaced.” Any fire engine or other fire vehicle that is 25 years old or older should be replaced, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit advocate group for the firefighting industry. Anzar got called out on Tender 618 to 109 different fires last year. He said they often get called because the tender has capacity for 3,000 gallons, six times what Engine 612 and a lot of other fire engines can carry. He's responded to fires in Stanislaus, Mariposa and Calaveras counties, as well as the 2013 Rim Fire, the 2016 Marshes Fire, and last year's Moc Fire. He also took Tender 618 to the October 2007 fire that burned the historic lodge at Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station. Anzar said his local family ties go back at least a century. His grandmother was born in 1919 in Stent, outside Jamestown. His brother, Barrett Anzar, 39, is a Cal Fire captain at McKee Station 85 in Merced County. “Being a volunteer, sometimes we go to the station and we think we got called out on a lift assist, where somebody fell down at home and didn't get hurt,” Robert Anzar said. “We go out for one call and it turns into one call after the other, all day. I've left home at 8 a.m. and I didn't go home until 5 p.m. that day. Some days I go out in the morning and then I'm gone for two days straight. Sometimes with this job you go out and you're gone for a long time.” Anzar's volunteer position with the Tuolumne County Fire Department is unpaid. For his full-time job, he is a locomotive engineer in Riverbank for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. He works five eighthour shifts a week, and his employer excuses his absences when he is working on fires. “If you do what you love,” Anzar said, “you never have to go to work.” Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat. net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.