Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dream + BLM Leadership Support + Veterans = Vegas Valley Hand Crew

(Photo by Jennifer Smith: Vegas Valley Hand Crew)
A dream for an all-veteran fire and fuels crew became a reality in 2012. Tim Murphy, assistant director of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Fire and Aviation, sparked the idea that would benefit returning and discharged veterans as well as the BLM. The BLM Southern Nevada District Office (SNDO) fueled this spark and established the Vegas Valley Hand Crew.

The SNDO led the pack in pursuing and hiring veterans for wildland firefighting. Mel Meier, SNDO associate district manager, and Chris Delaney, acting district fire management officer, began the hiring, outreach and recruiting planning for veterans. They were also able to gain leadership support from the get-go from Amy Lueders, Nevada state director, and Rex McKnight, acting Nevada associate state director. The plan was submitted to the National Interagency Fire Center and upon approval by John Glenn, division chief of Fire Operations, the SNDO team headed out to put their plan in motion.

After a lot of recruiting and hiring, a 20-person hand crew was established and the crew began training on April 23. Eric Ellison, crew superintendent detailed from the Silver State Hotshots, and Porter McQueary, assistant superintendent detailed from the Alaska Smokejumpers, were able to procure personal protective equipment and supplies as well as train the rookie crew. Learning to fight wildland fire is a skill that is new to most veterans, while learning how to function and operate as a team is a skill most everyone on this crew has experience with. The amount of time and dedication required to undertake this type of career should not be underestimated. As with many other jobs and trades, this line of work is not for everyone, but with all the knowledge and experience brought to bear, this crew has been set up to not only succeed but to flourish.

(Photo by Jennifer Smith: Vegas Valley Hand Crew)
The Vegas Valley Hand Crew has assisted with various fuels projects and supported over 11 wildland fires throughout the West this season. As the Veteran Crew moves into the future, each action is becoming more routine and fine-tuned. As more experience and depth is created within the crew, each passing season becomes exponentially more successful and the opportunities endless. With each passing incident or project, the future of this program is opening the pathway to a great deal of possibilities. Matching a massive workforce with a new set of skills and careers will ensure that the true work of this nation can continue well into the future.

Southern Nevada took this challenge and opportunity to show everyone what this program could look like and represent. The BLM embraced the intent of not only providing an opportunity for the individuals on the crew, but the future of the program. Continued support and funding are not simply the right thing to do for the individuals currently on the crew, but for countless others departing our armed forces and seeking the opportunity to continue to make a difference.

A special thanks to Jennifer Smith, NIFC External Affairs and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, for this post!

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