San Diego

Alpine Fire Captain Injured in West Fire

'It is basically a sunburn on steroids,' the captain said, playing down his injuries

Alpine Fire Department Capt. Mike Vacio is now home Saturday resting comfortably — well, as comfortably as one can get with first- and second-degree burns.

That wasn't the case Friday when the West Fire broke out. The conditions Friday were ripe for a big fire with the temperature reaching 110 degrees by midday and the humidity was at 9 percent and windy.

Vacio and his crew were the first ones on the scene.

"It is basically a sunburn on steroids," Vacio said, playing down his injuries.

The reality is that he and his crew, at one point, were surrounded by flames and had to make a quick escape.

"When he got to the E.R., he was purple," his wife, Clare Vacio, said.

The most dangerous injuries Capt. Vacio suffered weren't the burns on his ear and neck. He also suffered from heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and dehydration. 

"When the core temperature gets up," Capt. Vacio said. "Your organs start to fail. We caught it early enough. They caught it early enough and cooled me down."

Clare Vacio said receiving the one phone call she never hoped to answer was horrible.

"When it came through, I knew I had to be as strong as possible," Clare said.

That's because the call came from Capt. Vacio.

"When I was in the ambulance," he said. "I know my wife and I knew she didn't want to hear from the chief. So I called her."

Capt. Vacio said even though he was hurt, his crew stepped up in a big way. As soon as they got him onto an ambulance, they kept fighting the West Fire.

Capt. Vacio said the support he's received since word got out about his injury has meant everything to him and his family.

"The fire service family is very close so I had a lot of support from every agency in this district," he said. "Chiefs have called. Chiefs have shown up to the hospital.

Capt. Vacio's two boys, Anthony and Nicholas, say they are grateful for the support from the fire community and are proud of their father.

"It's pretty cool that we get to have a dad that is seen as a hero," Anthony Vacio said. "It is a really hard job and he has been doing it since well before we were thought of." 

Capt. Vacio is eager to get back to work. He has an appointment with his doctor Thursday and could be back to work as early as Friday.

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