Wildland firefighters get support nationwide

Wildland firefighters get support nationwide

28 October 2008

published by www.gallupindependent.com

USA — Almost 800 miles north of the Navajo Nation, a statue of a Navajo woman stands in Boise, Idaho.

Outfitted in firefighting gear, the statue — which stands alongside the statue of two male firefighters as part of the Wildland Firefighters National Monument — honors the diversity of wildland firefighters who risk their lives each year fighting wildfires and assisting in natural disaster relief work.

Although the statue honors many wildland firefighters, it was inspired by the hardworking and dedicated Navajo Scouts Vicki Minor began meeting years ago when she operated a contract commissary business for the U.S. Forest Service.

Minor, now the executive director and founder of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, was back with the Navajo Scouts earlier this month in Window Rock. She was a guest presenter at the Navajo Scouts Wildland Firefighters Appreciation Dinner on Oct. 18 at the Quality Inn, where she talked about the work of her nonprofit organization.
In a telephone interview last week, Minor said she helped establish the foundation after the devastating 1994 Storm King fire in Colorado that took the lives of 14 firefighters. In addition, she said, 32 wildland firefighters died across the country that year. Those tragic deaths inspired Minor to find a way to help the families of fallen and injured wildland firefighters.

According to Minor, the WFF helps families of fallen firefighters by providing immediate money to help stabilize the family and then provides funds to help with the long-term care of the family; it assists injured firefighters by getting family members to the hospital bedside of their loved one and by providing transportation and lodging; it supports recovery assistance for firefighters suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; it operates a Christmas program to provide Christmas gifts for the children of fallen firefighters; and it does education and advocacy work so families can receive deserved benefits.

Minor praised the many Navajo Scouts and Navajo Hotshots she has met through the years. At the appreciation dinner in Window Rock, Minor shared the story of an official from Washington who worked alongside Navajo Scouts in the recovery of debris from the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. That official confided to Minor how grateful, safe, and protected she felt to have the Navajo Scouts helping her with the recovery work in the fields of Texas.

“I’ve always felt honored to be with them,” Minor said of her own experience with Navajo firefighters. “I just know when they’re around, we’ll be safe.”

Minor said she was also impressed with the Navajo Scouts appreciation dinner. The speakers emphasized the importance of firefighters trusting their sixth sense, she said, something she said she hasn’t heard elsewhere.

“If more firefighters would talk about that,” she said, “I believe we’d lose less firefighters.”

Minor was also impressed that everyone was recognized and honored at the dinner, from the people who clean up the firefighters’ camps to the top bosses.

“They made everybody’s job so important — that doesn’t happen very much in the world,” she said.

Days after her visit to the Navajo Nation, Minor was making a trip to California to meet with the families of 11 firefighters who lost their lives this year fighting California wildfires. Minor said she was going to be joined by Dee Burke, a midwife at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, who lost her own firefighter son in an accident in a national park in California four years ago this month.

“She has been so helpful to the new families in their grief,” Minor said.

The WFF runs all its programs solely on charitable donations. According to Minor, a big part of the donations come from the organization’s “52 Club,” which is made up of people across the country who give $52 a year — $1 per week — to help the WFF’s work.

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