Grass fires rage across southern Manitoba, destroying buildings, businesses

Veterans chosen for wildland fire crew

30 April 2012

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USA — This summer, 20 local veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be serving their country in another way: by keeping people safe from wildland fires.

“Being in the military, these guys already have a lot of training that will help them on a fire crew,” said Mike McGirr with the Klamath Falls Resource area of the U.S. Bureau of Land Managment. “This is a good starting point for them to reintegrate back into civilian life.”

McGirr will be the crew supervisor for the Klamath Falls team. He was integral in organizing Medford and Klamath Falls participation in the national program.

Federal program

The crew formation is part of a federal program, aimed at putting veterans back to work, announced by President Obama in 2009.

The Klamath Falls team is one of three being organized in Oregon and Washington. The other teams, one in Medford and the other in Spokane, are 10-person crews. Several teams also are forming in California and Nevada.

Training for the 20 fledgling firefighters began Monday. They will be in the classroom for the first week, followed by a week of training in the woods, said McGirr. They’ll be trained on using chainsaws, fire engines, learning navigation and leadership.

“One of the guys in training said this is the closest you can come to being back in the military,” McGirr said. “There is some structure and camaraderie that reminds them of their time in the service.”

The only requirements are being physically fit, able to carry a 45-pound field pack, able to work up to 16 hours per day and available to work for 14 days in a row.

The local team will be a Type 2 hand crew, which means they will have proper training to be sent to most fires. Type 2 teams are not usually sent to the front lines of the most dangerous fires. Type 1 teams, such as Hotshot crews, usually fight the larger blazes.

Earning their red card

After training, the crew members will have earned their red card — indicating they’ve met the minimum training requirements for wildland firefighters — from the BLM and will be available nationally to fight fires.

McGirr said he received approximately 300 applications for the 20 spots, and those chosen were the ones with the most persistence who came back again and again expressing interest in being on the crew.

“We’re in the testing phase right now,” said Nolan Yocum, who will be heading up the Medford vets fire crew. “If it goes well this year we have plans to hopefully expand the number of spots available.”

McGirr said if any veterans are interested in getting their name in for future openings on the crew, they can go talk to him at the Klamath Falls Resource Area office, 2795 Anderson Ave., Bldg. No. 25.

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