USA — As fires raged through Green Ridge Mountain this past weekend, firefighters from around the region came to help with fighting and containing the blaze.
Some of those working to contain the fire, which was declared completely contained on Feb. 17, were Virginia Tech students and members of the Virginia Tech Wildland Fire Crew.
“It was a major adrenaline rush working to put out that fire,” said Matthew Bishop, senior forestry major and member of the crew.
The crew works diligently to be able to fight fires.
“To fight fires, you have to get a red card, which makes you eligible to fight wildfires,” said Keith Snead, senior forestry major and fire management officer for the crew. Though people can get their red card in a variety of different ways, most members of the squad get it through a class: Wildland fire ecology and management, taught by Shepard Zedaker, a professor of forestry and faculty sponsor for the crew.
“We incorporate National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group qualifying lessons into the class,” Zedaker said.
The lessons cover firefighting from the basics all the way to working with the uniform incident command system, which is a nationally used system to inform emergency units of large disasters and emergencies. Members must also pass a physical test.
“You have to pass a physical test, which is walking three miles in 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound weight vest,” Bishop said.
Zedaker has been an active leader since he began leading the group in 1999.
“(The crew) was in a state of disrepair when I started,” he said. “There were no faculty liaisons between the school of forestry and the Virginia Department of Forestry.” Zedaker worked with the crew to improve its quality while adding new supplies and vehicles. It then be-came an officially recognized student group in 2006. Previously, the group had been tied to the School of Forestry.
“It was the first time that we had ever officially applied for student group status,” Zedaker said.
Currently, there are 37 members in the crew. Though there are currently many people in the group, more members are still needed.
“We need more bodies out there,” Zedaker said.
A lack of crew members means that the crew sometimes has to pass on firefighting opportunities.
“There are fires that we can’t respond to because we don’t have the people,” Zedaker said.
Members of the crew dedicate many hours to fight fires, even missing class to take on the blazes.
“We sign up for days we are available, but sometimes we miss class,” Snead said. “Most professors know we’re doing this for a good cause, so they let us go.”
Sometimes the commitment can affect their personal lives.”We have to work on our time management a little bit,” Snead said. “When you fight fires, everything else gets put to the side.”
Though the crew works to protect the community, there is little public recognition for its efforts.
“Most people don’t even know about us,” Snead said. “We’ve been here for years.”
However, the group has gained some notoriety for its efforts.
“We get recognition within the Virginia forestry and federal forestry community,” Eide said.
This has led to more work for the crew.
“We’ve been called out recently to fires in the Blue Ridge parkway area and the Appalachian Trail area,” Eide said.