When he’s not training some of the top UFC and Bellator fighters at Alliance MMA in San Diego, coach Eric Del Fierro works as a firefighter.
Earlier this week, he faced a monumental task.
On Sunday, the USS Bonhame Richard warship caught fire at Naval Base San Diego, resulting in an on-board explosion that injured at least 40 sailors and 23 civilians. The fire, which wasn’t extinguished until Wednesday, is currently under investigation.
With the blaze erupting in his district, Del Fierro, 49, told MMA Junkie Radio that he and his team were the second engine to arrive on the scene.
“I’ve seen my share of ship fires (but) nothing of this magnitude, nothing of this size of ship,” Del Fierro said.
Fierro, who works for the federal fire department, said he took part in emergency efforts for three consecutive days from Sunday to Tuesday, with only a few hours to rest at his station each day.
“It’s pretty intense,” Del Fierro said. “I’ve been on a couple different ship fires through the years, and they’re always real intense. Because basically you’re walking into a barbecue oven, I guess you could say. It’s just cooking.”
He continued, “It was rough for sure. Everybody’s back was hurting, knees. You name it, every joint was hurting. The guys did an awesome job. Proud of everybody involved. It was solid work for sure. It was tough.”
Del Fierro described the particular set of challenges fighting this fire, with things like narrow corridors, small stairwells and general tight quarters prevalent throughout the ship.
“It got so smokey and heated so fast that I was actually shocked,” Del Fierro said. “It just seemed to be moving so fast that we actually had to exit the ship pretty quick. I think we were in there a total of about 15, 20 minutes. We were dead after that first attack. We had to take a good 15, 20-minute break before we went back in. That’s when that first big explosion happened at the front end of the ship, and they pulled all the firefighters off the ship completely. Just evacuated everybody off the pier.”
Del Fierro, who coaches the likes of Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis and Angela Hill at Alliance MMA, came away unscathed after spending three days trying to put the fire out. He said his efforts, in this case and others, hinge on having an adrenaline rush just like in fighting.
“I think adrenaline is adrenaline in any sport,” Del Fierro said. “When we talk psychology of fighting, we talk about how to approach it and what you actually have to do. You’re battling your own survival instinct in a fight. You’re in there imposing pain on somebody else and trying to minimize the amount of pain you’re getting and work your way through it. Your body is not made to want to be hurt or get hurt.
“Same thing in this type of incident. You’re walking into a dangerous environment that’s toxic, and you take a breath of hot air and smoke, and you can die. There’s a lot of adrenaline, a lot of fear that comes up, and you’re just working through it. Stay focused on what you’ve trained and let your instincts take over.”