Team Rubicon USA descends on Forbes Park, aids in post fire clean up

“When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon at the head of his legions and marched on Rome, it marked a point of no return. The phrase ‘crossing the Rubicon’ has since survived in reference to any group committing itself to a risky course of action.” –Team Rubicon USA web site

FORT GARLAND– Following the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Price, Haiti, a small group of volunteers led by U.S. Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty came to the aid of thousands left homeless.

Crossing over the Artibonite River, the natural border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the small team of eight volunteers called themselves “Team Rubicon” in reference to the Rubicon River in Rome. By crossing their Rubicon, the team acknowledged they were irrevocably committed to their task of helping those in need.

What has since evolved into “Team Rubicon USA” and grown to hundreds of volunteers across America, mostly veterans, respond to dozens of disasters across the nation and around the world, most recently the aftermath of the Spring Fire.

With more than 140 homes destroyed in the Forbes Park and Wagon Creek housing areas east of here, Team Rubicon USA descended on the scorched path of destruction on July 7th and will continue their volunteer efforts through July 22nd.

With a base camp set up on the Forbes Park community center site, twenty-five volunteers and only two paid staff are toiling daily to remove dangerous trees and other debris to assist homeowners devastated by the 10-day conflagration known as the Spring Fire.

“Our biggest focus is to clear homeowner driveways of downed and dangerous trees,” said Mark Ambrose, operations section supervisor for Team Rubicon’s disaster relief team. “We’re here to evaluate and cut and mitigate any safety hazards.”

Ambrose said the crew of mostly veterans is hampered by some safety regulations because the ash from every house burned “is considered hazardous material. That hinders an operation like ours where we’re used to going in and taking care of business.”

Team Rubicon has quickly gained a reputation for their readiness to respond to almost any natural disaster, Ambrose said, and are well known in the circle of emergency managers and volunteer organizations active in disasters.

Ambrose noted that Rubicon volunteers are predominately vets but anyone is welcome to join their cause. The organization provides a “reintegration for veterans who are prepared to deal with disasters,” and it “provides a form of mental health for them.”

He explained that once summoned by officials overseeing a disaster, a recon team goes in and determines if the situation is something Rubicon can assist with, banking on the group’s reputation and word of mouth.

“We try to fall trees to mitigate future mud slides in an area like this,” said Nika Hermes, a native of Elizabeth, CO and a six-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, pointing out a slope in Forbes Park where hundreds of trees were cut or fell on their own within a 48-hour period earlier this week. She is a “gray shirt” volunteer with Team Rubicon after leaving the Navy in 2010 as an aviation structural and hydraulic mechanic based in such locations as San Diego, Washington and Jacksonville, FL.

Hermes is a sawyer and is involved in removing hazardous trees and plans to continue to train to become an instructor for future certified sawyers.

Large trees, some threatening to fall on homes spared by the fire, are being removed daily by Team Rubicon. Other debris, mostly metal, from destroyed houses and other buildings is being removed and will be hauled to the base camp to eventually be sent to recycling by the Forbes Park Home Owners Association, according to another team member on site.

“Many of these young veterans are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said another volunteer. “There’s self-satisfaction in working in a disaster situation that they’re accustomed to and helping homeowners.”

“We are veterans,” Hermes said. “We see the devastation as an opportunity to help those affected.”

She said it’s like a “rollercoaster ride,” balancing the emotions of witnessing rampant destruction but knowing that they’re helping people.

Hermes pointed out several homes in the area that were spared from the blaze because owners had practiced proper fire mitigation prior to the Spring Fire inferno. She said that mitigation, the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and the nature of fire itself caused some homes to survive while others were reduced to ashes in minutes.

Removing dense forest around buildings and cutting low branches from remaining trees is one of the proper mitigation efforts, Hermes said.

“The prevention side of this is just as important.”

One property visited saw the home survive while the adjacent garage burnt to the ground. A Forbes Park resident said that homeowner had a mitigation team on site early one late June morning and within hours had to evacuate, but not before enough work was accomplished to help save the home.

It was clear in watching Team Rubicon USA in action and from hearing comments from volunteers on site that teamwork is the base principle of the organization. Residents decimated by the Spring Fire would probably agree.

The team is supported by national and international sponsors, grants and donations. For more information, go to:

Captions:A pickup and the home it accompanied were reduced to skeletons after the Spring Fire raced through the Forbes Park subdivision in the past two weeks. Other homes within a few hundred yards survived while others were reduced to a flat pile of rubble./Courier photos by Keith R. Cerny

While a Team Rubicon USA volunteer clears rubble from what was a garage in Forbes Park, the accompanying home survived due to some last-minute mitigation efforts just hours before residents were evacuated. Case is one of several national sponsors for Rubicon.

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