Veterans Fire Corps in the News:
Black Hills Fox News: Crews test skills in live fire exercise
Crossville Chronicle; Random Thoughts: Returning vets fight fire. Crossville, TN
The Daily Courier; Prescott, AZ.
The Veteran’s Fire Corps, Flagstaff, AZ met with U.S. Forestry Recreation Technician and qualified C-Sawyer, Justin Loxley, and began the week in assisting with the clean up of recreational campgrounds owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The beautiful drive forty-five minutes south of Flagstaff past Upper and Lower Lake Mary brought the VFC Team to both the Lakeview and Dairy Springs campgrounds.
The clean-up of Dairy Springs allowed the VFC Team to witness Loxley’s daily recreational work in campground cleanup. Lakeview and Dairy Springs required the falling of hazardous, rotted Ponderosa Pine trees snags in order to prevent possible dangerous interactions with falling trees and recreational campers. The project work also included the bucking up of fallen Ponderosas into three to four foot sections in order to be properly cleared by heavy equipment operators. Although the Lakeview Campground’s dead and down trees typically harbor hidden Timber Rattle Snakes, the VFC team was lucky enough to avoid any interaction.
Week 12 also allowed members of the VFC Team to work in other forestry departments such as Range and Wildlife. Brian and James spent two days with Wildlife Supervisor, Lauren Lasuleur, and conducted bird collaring, begging calls, and general annotations of Arizona’s Northern Goshawks, as well as the Narrow-Headed Garter Snakes. During the week, Davon was able to work with Range Supervisors, Mandi and Gary, and surveyed federal land pastures for feed allotments of privately owned cattle within the Coconino.
Picking up where they left off before the morning of the Crawley Fire, two members of the Veteran’s Fire Corps, Flagstaff, AZ (Bobby, Eric) began the long and back-breaking work of the Heckethorn Thinning Project, while the other three members (James, Davon, Brian) met with Fire Technician, Kristen Kolonoski, and assisted in the technical world of CBI Plotting (Composite Burn Index).
The Heckethorn Project began with thinning and clearing heavy thousand-hour snags and dead and downed trees on a peaceful morning, until the afternoon turned into a nightmare that brought one the worst storms of the year to Flagstaff’s monsoon season. Bobby and Eric followed Crew 4 down a treacherous mountain side, across a lightning prone meadow, and hid out within the trees and waited as the storm passed.
While half of the VFC Team and Crew 4 endured the storm in the Heckethorn area, the rest of VFC Flagstaff and Crew 4 enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in the Northern Coconino while conducting CBI Plots in the beautiful sunshine.
The rest of the week allowed both Crew 4 and the VFC Team to work together in completing the Heckethorn Project. Hundreds of yards of hand line were constructed, and a lot of heavy fuels were sawed, and cleared away from the fire line, in order to clear out and complete the preparations for this up coming burn project.
The Veteran’s Fire Corps Team, Flagstaff Arizona, not only tackled their second full week with Crew 4 in the Coconino National Forest, but had the opportunity to tackle their first real-life fire as well. Well into the dusk of Monday evening the yearly monsoons reeked havoc within the Coconino National Forest and a single lightning strike set ablaze nearly three quarters of an acre before emergency fire crews could begin fighting it. The wildfire took place within the Crawley wilderness area and was aptly named: The Crawley Fire.
Under the direction of Aaron Greyser, the VFC Team assisted in the containment and final mop-up of the area fire. Although the wildfire was small and nearly contained, a few hundred and thousand hour fuels remained ablaze and hot, smoldering ash still littered the are. Mop-up consisted of digging hand line, water placement with hose-lay and bladder bags, and finally fire-line grid patterns that checked for any remaining heat. The fire was called all-clear and contained after less than 40 hours after the initial lightning strike, and James, Eric, Brian, and Davon of VFC Flagstaff had seen their first real-world forest fire; albeit a very small real-world fire.
The Veteran’s Fire Corps Team in Flagstaff, AZ completed their first week working with the Coconino National Forest. The week began with a courteous welcoming by U.S. Forest Service Crew Boss, Aaron Greyser. The VFC team immediately went to work with Aaron and his seasoned fuels crew, Crew 4, and assisted with a thinning & hand pilling project near Mt. Eldon. The project focuses on fire prevention for the communities around Mt. Eldon which includes many homes, some popular recreational trails, and the extremely valuable communications equipment on Eldon’s summit.
Throughout the week the VFC team integrated into Crew 4’s morning PT (physical training) sessions that include running, weight lifting, calisthenics, and hiking with line packs and fire tools.
The Veteran’s Fire Corps Team, Flagstaff, AZ currently finished their final week working within the Kaibab National Forest. The week began with a site visit by SCA’s Program Manager, Brian Doughty, which focused on individual interviews for team progression.
In mid-week the Forest Service held an active shooter drill inside the Williams Ranger Station as well as a federal safety briefing that included an educational lecture on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and general safety tips while working in the field.
The week’s forestry conservation projects included livestock fence repair to assist local farmers with cattle grazing; the previous fence had been destroyed by a 2007 forest fire. Former SCA/VFC Member, Marshall Kulp (currently now a USFS Forestry Technician), lead the team in the fence repairs. Additionally, the team continued their previous hazardous fuels work on the Holden Lake Thinning Project and improved their efficiency as chainsaw sawyers.
Captain of Engine 7-11, Ryan, held a great training that improved the team’s knowledge of Type-6 and Type-3 Engines and Water Tenders. Additionally, Ryan and his engine crew created a simulated fire and taught the team progressive hose lay procedures for combating fire. Forestry member Jeff Sanocki held a great training lecture that provided Corps Members with helpful tips for online federal jobs search/application procedures with an emphasis on multiple U.S. Forest Service career paths.
This week the team took a break from the usual back breaking labor and delved into the science behind prescribed burning. Fire plays a key role in maintaining the health of many ecosystems and is a crucial part of the management of our public lands. By monitoring the effects of fire, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and other government land management agencies are able to document the effects of a fire, assess the damage and benefit fire has on an ecosystem, evaluate the success or failure of a burn, and use the data to guide future fire treatments.
Working in the McCracken Prescribed Burn unit the team preformed stand assessment surveys. Some of the measurements include: duff & litter depth, downed woody debris counts, tree species counts, diameter of trees (DBH), and heights of trees. The Team was able to measure 21 plots across 7 different stands.
Now that training is completed, the team has settled into their housing in Flagstaff, Arizona and have begun their first project. The Team has been working with the Kaibab National Forest outside the town of Williams, Arizona. The temperatures have already begun to rise and the forest is currently in a Type 3 Fire Ban (limiting our use of Chain Saws to early mornings only).
The teams first project is in a 26 acre thinning project located in the Wildland Urban Interface surrounding Williams in a prescribed burn area known as the Holden Lake Thinning unit. The Team has been felling, bucking, limbing, and hand piling hazardous fuels which include specified sized Pondrosa Pine and Juniper trees. The work is extremely difficult and demanding however it is equally rewarding knowing we are helping protect the communities surrounding Williams, AZ. Later, in the winter, these piles will be burned prior to a prescribed broadcast burn of the entire thinning unit.
Check out our amazing before and after pictures below:
VFC Corps Member Training:
Members of the Kaibab National Forest VFC Team (and both Black Hills VFC Team 1 & Team 2), enjoyed three weeks of SCA Orientation, Red Card (wildland firefighting), Wilderness First Aid training, and S-212 Wildland Fire Chain Saw training. We all met at Medicine Mountain Boy Scout Camp near Custer, SD on May 21st to begin our three weeks of rigorous trainings. The first week of training included SCA Orientation, policies, procedures, and all last minute administrative tasks. The schedule also allowed for a couple of short recreational trips to explore nearby: Mount Rushmore National Park & Wind Cave National Monument. The end of week one was concluded with adult/child CPR along and Wilderness First Aid administered by two personnel from Aerie Backcountry Wilderness from Montana. After learning the book answers, we immediately practiced them. Our instructors provided us with hands-on real world scenarios that tested our ability to learn, react, work with others, and make prudent snap decisions when faced with emergency situations in a backcountry setting.
Black Hills National Forest hosted a Guard School for our second week of training. Many members of the surrounding Forest Service District Offices (Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, and Spearfish) came to the camp in order to teach us all we would need to know in order to fight forest fires and to assist with prescribed burns. This training was ran as a “mock incident”, during which we all camped out in a fire camp like one would during a large wildfire incident. We took S-190 (Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior), S-130 (Firefighter Training), IS-700 (An Introduction to the National Incident Management System, NIMS), and L-180 (Human Factors on the Fireline). Some of the classes were on weather and how it affects the way fire behaves. We also had a class on fire behavior, potential hazards, and map & compass use to name a few. During Guard School we also participated in the Arduous Work Capacity test which consists of carrying 45 pounds for three miles in under 45 minutes. We concluded the week with a live prescribed burn field training exercise, constructing fire lines, mopping up, and even deploying our fire shelters. It was good to practice the techniques and knowledge we gained in the classroom.
Watch Video Here:
Black Hills Fox: Crews test skills in live fire exercise
During our third week the Black Hills National Forest hosted S-212 Training (Wildland Fire Chain Saws) and after a week of training and field work the VFC team are now certified “A fallers”, which is the apprentice level of the three certifications: “A, B, and C fallers”. The “A faller” is proficient in limbing and bucking. Limbing is the practice of sawing branches off trees and bucking is the practice of sawing fallen timber in to smaller pieces.
What follows is the tale of five inspiring individuals, dedicated to a life of service, who share a connection to the land, and have made a commitment to the people who live there. Their quest is a courageous endeavor, the challenge of controlling wildland fire in Arizona’s most beautiful and equally unforgiving terrain. The Student Conservation Association, in partnership with Coconino, Kaibab, & Prescott National Forests of Northern Arizona, is pioneering a new program, the Veterans Fire Corps (VFC), to complete fire & fuels management projects.
Bearing down on the standoff between wildfire and the wildland-urban interface, The VFC readily takes action. When weather, wind, and vegetation conditions align, they harness the power to control fire in their struggle to find a balance with Mother Nature. Some would call them idealists, many call them Heros, but one thing is clear: When history has passed and all that we know has come to fade away, the mountains of Northern Arizona will stand eclipsed under the shadow of these giants known as the VFC. This is their story.
The VFC is working with the US Forest Service to improve ecosystem health, rangeland conditions, wildlife habitat, and reduce the threat and adverse effects of wildland fire while also providing recent-era Veterans with the training, credentials and experience they need to competitively pursue wildland fire and/or forestry careers. The VFC is working on a variety of projects including; tree thinning, mechanical brush clearing, and prescribed fire.
Check back regularly to follow a firsthand account of their adventure.
Bobby received his start in conservation by volunteering for four months on an ecological reserve in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala with the non-profit organization, Volunteer Petén. While receiving his degree in Anthropology from Metropolitan State College of Denver he interned with Fifth Sun Development Fund as an Environmental Anthropologist in the rural villages of Northern Mexico.
This is currently Bobby’s sixth season with the SCA. Bobby started with the SCA in 2009, Fire Effects Monitoring, in partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Great Plains of North and South Dakota. He then went on to lead a Fire Effects Monitoring Team with Wayne National Forest, Ohio; then Trail Assessment and Condition Survey Teams in Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri, Finger Lakes National Forest, New York, and Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont. Most recently Bobby led the Veterans Fire Corps in Prescott National Forest, Arizona.
Bobby is a passionate outdoor enthusiast, conservationist, and is a certified Wildland Firefighter, Wilderness First Responder, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. When he’s not leading fuels reduction projects throughout the forests of Northern Arizona you might find him riding his enduro across the desert and canyoneering with his better half (and fellow SCA Alum), Anna, throughout the amazing landscape of The Southwest.
Feel free to email or call Bobby with any questions or interest about the Veteran’s Fire Corps.
SCA -- Veterans Fire Corps
Coconino, Kaibab, & Prescott National Forests
2846 Fairview DR.,
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
My name is Eric Muñoz, and I live in Boise, ID. I’m a college senior at Boise State University studying English Literature & Writing. I’ve been in the United States Navy for nearly nine years having spent over five of them in the Middle East, Europe, and Hawaiian Islands on active duty before transferring into the Navy Reserve to pursue a college degree in my hometown while continuing my federal service. So far, I’ve enjoyed my time in the SCA’s VFC program and I’m looking forward to an exciting summer here in Arizona. I plan on returning home to Boise in the fall to finish my final year of college. Upon graduation from Boise State I plan on becoming commissioned as a Naval Officer and completing a 30 year career.
“In life, there are many prisons. But even in the darkest ones, there are always possibilities”. – Nelson Mandela
My name is Davon Lamar Goodwin and I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Now I currently live in Pembroke, North Carolina where I attend the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. I am currently a senior where I major in Biology and Botany. I will graduate in May 2013, and hopefully attend graduate school in the fall. I currently serve in the United States Army Reserve and I am also a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 – 2010. This experience in the VFC has been great so far, I couldn’t ask for a better team and leader. I hope this program continues to grow every year. My future plans are to become an agronomist and research different ways to help sustain agriculture for the world.
My name is Brian Hirtzer and I hail from Chicago, Illinois. I joined the Navy in 2008 and served 3 years as an Aviation Maintenance Administrator. I served two years in the squadron HSM-41 out of Coronado Airbase in San Diego, California. I then did an IA as a postal clerk for the army with the 510 HRC. I spent 9 months at KAIA in Kabul, Afghanistan providing postal services for all branches of the military. I received and honorable discharge in April 2011. I started school in August 2011 and am now a full time student studying Forestry at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. I can’t wait to start working with the VFC and build up experience with wildland firefighting and fire ecology.
My name is James Love and I am from Kansas City, Missouri. I served 8 years in the United States Marine Corps as a heavy equipment operator attached to Engineer units and received an honorable discharge in December 2009. I have been a full time student since January 2010 at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri with an emphasis on a BS in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I am looking forward to the experience and networking opportunities offered by the VFC this summer in pursuing a career with a federal agency upon graduation from college in April 2013.
|Veterans Fire Corps|
|Map of Arizona|
|General Site Information|
|Bobby Woelz - Project Leader|
|Eric Muñoz - Corps Member|
|Davon Goodwin - Corps Member|
|Brian Hirtzer - Corps Member|
|James Love - Corps Member|
|Week 12 – Lakeview and Dairy Springs Campgrounds, Wildlife Crew, Range Crew|
|Week 11 – Heckethorn Thinning & Clearing Project, Composite Burn Index Plots|
|Week 10 - The Crawley Fire, Coconino National Forest|
|Week 9 - Coconino National Forest, Mt. Eldon Thinning Project, & Physical Training|
|Week 8 - Holden Lake Thinning, Fence Building, Simulated Fire Training, Career Information & Program Manager Site Visit|
|Week 7 - Fire Effects Monitoring|
|Week 6 - Line Prep|
|Week 4 & 5, Holden Lake Thinning Project|
|Week 1 - 3, VFC Corps Member Training:|
|Black Hills Fox News: Crews test skills in live fire exercise|