The Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew at the Dixie Fire in California. Photo by Joe Bradshaw, BLM.
BY JENNIFER MYSLIVY, ERIN MCDUFF
It just makes sense to match our veterans’ skills with wildland firefighting. From teamwork to decisive leadership; risk mitigation to management; logistics to emergency medicine, many of the skills our veterans learned in the military translate to wildland firefighting.
The Bureau of Land Management launched a Veteran Fire Crews program in 2012 to provide more jobs for veterans while benefiting from their vast experience and increasing the number of wildland firefighters available during our increasingly severe wildfire seasons.
The Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew in California combines military veterans with seasoned wildland firefighters to form this type 2 initial attack hand crew, which is responsible for constructing fire lines while also capable of separating into smaller squads to conduct initial wildfire suppression activities.
This crew provides an opportunity for veterans to learn about the wildland fire management field and gain critical skills that will prepare them for a full career in wildland firefighting.
Meet Conell McKinney
An Army veteran from Santa Clarita, California, Conell McKinney served in the infantry.
He now works as a wildland firefighter with the Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. “The self-discipline the Army instilled in me helped quite a bit with my transition to wildland firefighting and with understanding how to operate in less-than-ideal environments,” he explained.
The advice he would like to share with others that may be interested in wildland firefighting is, “Train hard. The work is like nothing you’ve done before!”
Meet Roger Hooper
During the 2021 fire season, the Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew trained 200 active-duty Army soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who were dispatched to assist with wildfire suppression operations.
Roger Hooper, a crewmember and infantry veteran from Nevada City, Nevada, noticed many military skillsets that helped the soldiers transition in firefighting, including hard work, discipline, the ability to stay calm in complex situations, teamwork, and resource management.
When asked for advice for those interested in wildland firefighting, Hooper said “Maintain good physical shape and apply for a variety of fire jobs because there is one out there that you will enjoy!”
Meet Jaime Velasquez
Jaime Velasquez is a crewmember from Sacramento, California. He’s a veteran of the National Guard and served as a water purification specialist. He came to the Bureau of Land Management with prior firefighting experience from when his National Guard unit was activated by the state to fight wildfires in 2014.
During the Joint Base Lewis-McChord deployment this season, Velasquez enjoyed seeing how motivated they were to learn the job and the opportunity to hear some of their stories and experiences.
Firefighting Job Opportunities for Veterans
Are you a veteran, or do you know a veteran, who is looking for a new, exciting career? For anyone who wants to work in a field that is physically and mentally challenging, gets you outdoors, provides opportunities for travel, delivers occasional spikes of adrenaline, and serves the greater good, wildland fire checks a lot of boxes and can benefit from the expertise of veterans.
The Interior Department is hiring to fill hundreds of wildland fire management jobs this fall. The positions are located throughout the country, and more are posted on usajobs.gov each day.
We promise, it's not your ordinary job!
Jennifer Myslivy is a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Wildland Fire.