April 17, 2009 - Wildland firefighters Kitiona Osotonu and Tulimanu Tulimanu, Jr., both from Leone, leave the island soon to join up with the "Hot Shots" in the U.S. mainland, those who risk their lives in order to save the nation's natural treasures as well as lives and homes threatened by massive fires that occur during the dry season.
"[They] are success stories that American Samoa should be proud of," said National Park of American Samoa Superintendent Mike Reynolds. "They're well respected on the mainland... sought after... something we're pretty proud of. It's good money, they're great firefighters and famous among the fire ranks in the U.S."
Reynolds explained that Osotonu and Tulimanu are just two of 25 qualified Samoan firefighters in the territory, under the program funded by the National Park Service and the National Park of American Samoa.
Every summer, local firefighters are called to serve in the U.S. mainland, a time when the national parks and wildland across the U.S. are most vulnerable due to the hot summer weather.
For Osotonu, it is the fifth year he will be working at the Yosemite National Park, and for Tulimanu it is his sixth year of working with the Fulton "Hot Shots" in California.
Osotonu, 26, is the son of Etika and Asofa Osotonu of Leone. Off-season, he is a trail worker with the National Park, having worked on numerous trails at Sauma Ridge in Vatia, at Gataivai, Fagatele Bay, Pola Island and Mt. Alava.
Tulimanu, 27, makes his home in Leone with wife Kueva and 16-month-old daughter Steffenie. In the off-season, he is a bus driver on the Paradise Transport I.
Despite the dangers, both men like their jobs.
For Osotonu, it provides the means to care for his parents, as he serves, helps others and protects the natural treasures for the nation's posterity.
The dangers of the job are very real as he said last summer two firefighters died at Yosemite.
"They got caught in a snag (or burning tree)," he told Samoa News. "Fighting those fires is for the future... we're saving families, and homes."
He was also called along with thousands of other firemen to battle huge blazes in Idaho and Utah in 2008. He adds that other perks of the job include making friends, seeing new places and learning. His skills include landing a helicopter and handling chainsaws, both tools of his trade.
This will be Tulimanu's first year as a paid fireman. Previous years he served as a volunteer. He possesses the same wildland firefighting skills as Osotonu.
Last year he was among the many firefighters who answered the call to the San Diego fires of 2008.
The job "is a lot of fun" he said, not to mention, good paying, which is a big plus for him and his young family.
Each year local firefighters undergo a refresher course with National Park Service officials with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Next month while Osotonu and Tulimanu are in the U.S. those who will stay back will participate in the training that includes a 40 lb pack test that will take place at the OMV track. The test is set for May 19 while training to be held at the ASCC Land Grant Conference Room is scheduled for May 20-21.
"These are the guys that protect the houses on the mainland" said Reynolds, who has been a firefighter for 10 years. "It's not an easy job, it's a dangerous job and it's hard work. They have a very important role and a special skill."
The men will return after six months. Osotonu departs the island May 14 and Tulimanu, who departs Sunday, Apr. 19, asks that the people of American Samoa remember them in their prayers.