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Chasing Lightning: The story of FEMA's Daniel Urbina

Simone Dozier
FEMA Corps

This is often a reality for the firefighters who are currently on the frontlines of the California wildfires. 

Meet Daniel Urbina. 

Daniel Urbina at the State-Federal Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge.

Daniel Urbina is 26 years old and from Angwin, CA, a quaint town in Napa County. Currently, he is a Report Specialist at the State-Federal Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge, LA. Urbina worked with the Napa County Fire Department for six years and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) for two. He has experience with search and rescue and teaching other members in the fire service. Two months ago, he was on the frontlines of the wildfires in Northern California. Urbina is extremely passionate about the fire service but says that it does come with its drawbacks. “Your first fire you’re nervous, you are literally shaking in your boots. You often see stuff and do things that you thought you would never have to do. You only have one try to pull someone out,” said Urbina. 

Daniel Urbina has now been with FEMA since August 3rd. He was deployed after hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana. In a span of a week, Urbina went from volunteer firefighting, being evacuated, to driving across the country to start his new assignment. 

Urbina (pictures on the right) creating reports at the State-Federal Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge.

When asked about how wildfires are reshaping California, Urbina mentioned how they are becoming a part of California’s identity. He discussed how everyone’s attitude towards the fires differs vastly. “Some people got scared and ran and evacuated, some chose to stay and wouldn’t go, some would stay and fight, and some complied,” Urbina recalled. “Some people were complacent, they thought it’s just another fire.” The fire service’s biggest challenge, according to Urbina, is when people choose not to evacuate. He contemplated, “how could we defend your home if we were distracted, by trying to make sure that you were okay?” Things can be replaced, people cannot. 

Urbina helping out with the notorious "campfire," the most expensive natural disaster in the world in terms of uninsured losses.

Urbina continued by saying that he once worked for four days straight without sleep. Even with over 16,000 California-based firefighters currently deployed, it is not enough. However, policies are beginning to change. The state government is now considering cutting down trees so that the water table will rise which would allow for vegetation and forests to remain healthy. Regardless, if things do not change the fire service in California may become overwhelmed. California has even recruited Israeli firefighters to come and help with the situation, since Israel’s climate is very similar to California’s, Urbina states. “It’s exhausting. You keep going because you know there is not help and that there are people counting on you. Knowing that gives you inner strength. You are it, there is no one else,” he described. 

Urbina putting out fires in the California Wilderness.

Although he may still want to go out and help fight fires, he knows he can help just as much with his new FEMA position. Although Daniel Urbina has for the moment left the fire service, you can easily tell it is still a big part of his identity and is something that will always stay with him. As he explains, “there is nothing like chasing lightning.” 

Urbina working for the Napa County Fire Department.