With wildfire season just around the corner, we caught up with Jason Brooks, a 54 year old NYC DEC Wildland Firefighter and Trainer with North American Training Solutions in vegetation management safety. He has also served as an Assistant Instructor on several S level classes for the purpose of federal wild land certification. Currently he is working on a project in California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains directly in the shadow of the Dixie fire that consumed almost one million acres last season. When he is not out west, he makes his home in Northern NY in the offseason.
What attracted you to wildland firefighting and how did you get started?
My Father was a New York State Forest Ranger and his duties included wildfire suppression, when I was old enough, he would bring me along to help work on local fires. This is where Safety became the driving force in my life. I have always been drawn to a sense of public service and helping in great times of need.
How long have you been a wildland firefighter?
I started traveling west to fight fire in the summer of 1996.
Is this a full time career for you? If not, what else do you do for your career?
For someone who maintains a home in the east, Wildland fire is a full time-part time job if that makes sense? Six to seven months out of the year is generally spent living in USDA housing at the current duty station. A federal wildland fire crew can be dispatched anywhere in the country where there is need, there are often other situations, besides fire, where we can be utilized such as hurricane disaster response, large scale search and rescue, and sometimes recovery operations.
Do you typically travel to other states or regions when there is a wildfire?
In the west it seems like fire season is constantly evolving and becoming a year round mind set as opposed to previous decades when there was a defined “season”. People that live in these year-round fire prone areas typically have “Go” bags ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Often the firefighters live in these communities and can be dispatched to suppress fires in their own communities and sometimes they even end up defending their own homes.
Typically, there is a “wildfire season”, how do you prepare for the season? Training, gear, etc.
When prepping for fire season there are a few things that are key to being prepared. Being physically fit with a well-rounded program of cardio and endurance will be the foundation of any prepared firefighter. To build on that foundation, mental preparedness goes hand in hand. I often use lessons learned from prior incidents where things went wrong during operations and sometimes lives were lost. Analyzing the “why’s” behind accidents, and reading the investigations, can help prevent them in the future.
What tips do you have for other wildland firefighters to prepare for the season is there a checklist you go by?
My advice for anyone involved in these fires regardless of your scope of work - from the folks running the fire camps and helping with laundry, to the guys fighting it out on the line, is to be a remarkable team member. Look out for each other, train, eat, study together. Keep each other safe and support each other. Trust your training and your gut.
Do you have any advice for someone considering a career as a wildland firefighter?
Individuals that are interested in Wildland fire should seek out training through local channels. Often times, these trainings will provide contacts to the fire world and employment opportunities will present themselves. The Federal system with the USDA Forest service is a great program and provides many opportunities for employment all over the United States. Basic fire programs like the S-130/S-190 are a good place to start and can be found through basic searches on the internet. There are several national wildfire academies held yearly from Long Island NY to Colorado and all the way to Arizona. These are open enrollment courses and will provide not only a base to build on, but many contacts in the industry.
Before season starts – Check you gear!
HAIX recommends checking your PPE and especially your footwear to make sure they are just as ready as you are. Some things to look for:
If you notice any of the above, check with the boot manufacturer as to whether your boots can be repaired or if you need to replace. If your boots are good to go for another season, give your boots a good cleaning, a new pair of insoles, and you should be ready for anything.
Thank you HAIX and Thank God.
Thank you sir for the prep 101 talk communication is key for all Smoke Eaters and PPE's are essential. However check your Heart and mind via. Health and Wellness seminars or webinars. The body maybe willing but the mind may not.