November 2002 (Lassen Volcanic National Park): I love this photo of my Type II hand crew on the Hole Prescribed Burn at Lassen Volcanic National Park. I didn’t take this shot but what you can’t see is I’m leading this crew to another assignment on the burn. The importance of this photo to me is the discipline the crew shows. They are spaced out, tools by their side, PPE in tact, and ready to work. A few days earlier this photo would’ve looked like a disaster.
I’d arrived at Lassen Volcanic National Park just a few weeks earlier to take new position as the Assistant Fire Engine Operator on Engine 33. The Manzanita Lake Guard Station (where I was assigned during the summer on Engine 33) was closed for the season and I was working from the Park Headquarters Mineral Fire Station. Our fall project was preparing and executing the Hole Prescribed Burn in the park. I was assigned to our Type II hand crew where Phil Monsanto was the Crew Boss and I was a Squad Boss. When the time came to break out the drip torches and ignite the place Phil would take another assignment on the Burn and I’d take charge of the troops.
Prior to moving to Lassen I had just spent a couple of months with the Vale Hotshot crew out of Vale, Oregon. Hotshot Crews are Type I Hand Crews and are always put on the front fire lines to contain wildfires. They work as a team, remain disciplined, follow orders, and carry a bit of ego (why not, you’re a freakin’ hotshot). These traits help get the job done safely and effectively.
Well, on the first day of the Hole Burn generally the crew was awesome. Of course I had a few folks who just plain didn’t get it (Not you Bruce…no worries). They were new to firefighting and this crew. Throughout the summer they were seasonal National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers. The end of season was over for them but because they had a Red Card (meaning they were qualified to be on the fire line) and we had funds to bring them on for a few weeks so they were now part of the crew. The issue was they didn’t understand how to work as a team on the fire line, they didn’t follow orders well, were lazy, and were a “Watch Out” situation putting all the crew at risk.
Well I kept at it with them. I expected the Crew to communicate down the line, watch spacing, walk with tools down by your side, and other firefighting tactics that keep wildland firefighters safe on the line. My persistance paid off because I can spot those three seasonal park rangers in this photo. They may not have liked what was going on (and I have no idea if they ever set foot on a fireline again) but they did became part of this Crew, even if it was for just a few days.