Tribal Government & News

Tribal firefighters experience rigorous boot camp

07.14.2016 Brent Merrill Natural Resources

Each year, just before fire season starts, the Natural Resources Department holds a boot camp for its firefighters.

Silviculture and Fire Protection Manager Colby Drake said boot camp started when Police Chief Jake McKnight was supervising the fire crews for the Natural Resources Department.

“It’s a chance to see where guys are at when it comes to being in shape and being ready for fire season,” said Drake. “And we are also trying to get everybody a chance to know each other.”

McKnight said he looked at boot camp as a way to gauge everyone’s skills.

“My main thing was to bring everyone together,” said McKnight. “Before that we wouldn’t know the limitations of people until we were out on fires. With the boot camp, I wanted to see their limitations. I think the biggest thing was people got to know each other.”

Drake said the boot camp gives supervisors an idea who should be on hand crews and who should be on the trucks.

“We are just wanting to see where our guys are at (physically),” said Drake. “We’re also trying to get them in the right frame of mind. We’re trying to get people to know each other and build some camaraderie together.”

Drake said the first day of boot camp is filled with paperwork and getting the rundown on the job from staff members at Human Resources and that the second day is all hiking.

“Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we start doing field exercises, which, depending on conditions, can be a mock fire drill or digging a fire line,” said Drake. “We have to follow national standards. Those national standards are what keep our fire program to the level of accreditation that we’re at. It’s a hard job.”

Fire Protection Technician Jay Ojua leads the boot campers on training hikes to see what kind of shape crew members are in.

“After we get all the paperwork done and all the gear assigned and the lockers assignments figured out, I take them hiking on the roads behind the Natural Resources Department,” said Ojua. “I hiked them really hard the second day.”

Drake said boot camp is about gauging everybody’s fitness level and how crew members interact with each other. After everyone is assessed, hand crews are selected.

“It’s a big deal for everybody. Everybody wants to be on the first hand crew,” said Drake. “It’s the best of the best.”

Drake said the department plans for boot camp all year.

“Boot camp is a big week for us,” said Drake. “We are always planning for it. I feel like we are always looking for ways to improve it.”

Drake said that by the time Friday of boot week camp arrives, fire crew members are ready to go out and fight fires.

“By Friday, we have all of our gear organized and ready to get loaded up in the trucks and we usually have our crew available by that Friday for a national response anywhere in the country,” said Drake. “As soon as we get boot camp week done and accomplished, the sooner we can become available and we kind of get a head start on a lot of the federal agencies.”

It was a good thing that the fire crew got ready early this year because the Natural Resources Department already has a fire crew out on a job.

“We made the crew available Thursday and we got picked up by Sunday morning,” said Drake. “We have a crew heading to southern California. They got assigned to the Fish fire in the Angeles National Forest outside of Los Angeles.”

Hundreds of firefighters from the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Forest Service spent the early days of the 5,400-acre forest fire battling a pair of brush fires in the foothills and mountains of the San Gabriel Valley amid triple-digit temperatures. The hand crew from Grand Ronde joined forces with the firefighters already battling the blaze.

A fatal car crash on California Highway 39 near Morris Dam sparked the fire.

“We have never had any crew or any engines ever go to southern California,” said Drake. “We sent a 20-person hand crew that included seven Tribal members. They left Grand Ronde Sunday at 1 p.m.”

Drake said it is a 14-day assignment that started on Monday, June 21.

Drake said boot camp this year was a success and that Natural Resources ended up with a 35-person crew. He said four of the crew members were new to the team this year.

“Overall I think it went pretty well,” said Drake. “Our new people look really good.”

McKnight said he was happy that the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department kept the boot camp program going.

“I’m glad that it has continued and that Colby has done a great job of just carrying on all those traditions,” said McKnight. “I think without boot camp it would be tougher. I think it’s good.”