EFF crews head south to help with busy fire season

Yukon Koyukuk Crew Boss William

Yukon Koyukuk Crew Boss William “Papa” Penn leads four Type 2 emergency firefighter crews out on the tarmac to board a plan bound for the Lower 48 on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2017. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS.

Four Type 2 Emergency Firefighter crews said goodbye to Alaska and its cloudy, rainy skies Sunday morning and headed to the heat of the Lower 48 to help with a busy fire season. The crews from Fairbanks and numerous rural villages boarded a plane bound for Spokane, Wash. where they will then be bussed to a mobilization center in Idaho to be assigned to wildland fires in the area.

Alaska Division of Forestry’s Fairbanks #2 Crew Boss Ken Richards said the crew is happy to be heading south after what has been a slow fire season in Alaska.

“I’m excited,” Richards said. “Whatever we can do to help in the Lower 48 we’ll do. That’s what we’re here for.”

Four Type 2 emergency firefighter crews board a plane bound for the Lower 48 on Aug. 5, 2018. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS.

Four Type 2 emergency firefighter crews board a plane bound for the Lower 48 on Aug. 5, 2018. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS.

Alaska’s fire season is winding down while the situation in the Lower 48 has resources stretched thin. Alaska downgraded to a preparedness level one, the lowest, Sunday morning as firefighters are on track to demobilize from the three remaining staffed fires in Alaska by Tuesday. Meanwhile, the four EFF crews will booster the more than 28,000 personnel already working on wildfires across the west. A second jet load with four more Type 2 EFF crews is scheduled to fly south later this week. Last year, 23 Type 2 EFF crews did a stint on fires in the Lower 48. As of Sunday, more than 5 million acres have burned nationally. At this pace, it’s on par to be the fifth largest fire season in terms of acres burned. Alaska accounts for about 398,000 of those acres.

BLM AFS's Kay Kudo, in black, hands two sack lunches to Ernest Barger Jr of Buckland while Tuck Cleveland of Noorvik and Ronald Skin of Selawik wait their turn in line before boarding a plane to the Lower 48 to help with a busy fire season. Each of the 83 boarding the plane on Sunday were given two sack lunches before they left. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS.

BLM AFS’s Kay Kudo, in black, hands two sack lunches to Ernest Barger Jr of Buckland while Tuck Cleveland of Noorvik and Ronald Skin of Selawik wait their turn in line before boarding a plane to the Lower 48 to help with a busy fire season. Each of the 83 boarding the plane on Sunday were given two sack lunches before they left. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS.

Type 2 EFF crews are typically mobilized to the Lower 48 in groups of four using large transport aircraft arranged through National Incident Coordination Center. Crews mobilized to assignments outside of Alaska consist of 20 personnel including an agency assigned experienced crew representative, otherwise known as a CREP. This person is assigned to look after the crew’s best interests during their assignment. Otherwise, a crew consists of a at least one qualified crew boss, three squad bosses, up to four sawyers, and 9-15 crew members that may include a variety of trainees. Additionally, an interagency resource representative and a crew administrative representative will be assigned to each group of crews travelling together to facilitate the interaction with incident management teams and dispatch centers in all matters pertaining to the crews including timekeeping and in likelihood that someone gets hurt.

The rural crews were flown in to BLM AFS facilities on Fort Wainwright Saturday and equipped with things like Nomex, fire shelters and packs for a 14-day assignment. They are the Kobuk Valley #2 crew from Selawik, Ambler, Noorvik and Buckland; the K River Crew from Hughes and Allakaket; and the Yukon Koyukuk Crew with firefighters from Huslia, Nulato, Galena and Koyukuk. They’ll get their hand tools and chain saws once they get to Idaho. Then they’ll more than likely head out to a fire in the Northern Rockies Area which includes Montana, North Dakota, northern Idaho and a small portion of South Dakota.

Four Type 2 emergency firefighter crews and supporting agency appointed overhead sit on a plane before flying to the Lower 48 to help with the busy fire season. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS

Four Type 2 emergency firefighter crews and supporting agency appointed overhead sit on a plane before flying to the Lower 48 to help with the busy fire season. Photo by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS

The crews are a mixture of seasoned veterans and first timers. Rookie Quinn Tickett of Ambler was both excited and nervous, but was trying not to let his nerves get the better of him after eating breakfast at BLM AFS dining facility Sunday morning. The 20-year-old grew up listening to stories from his father and his friends that were firefighters years ago.

“He’d always come back with a bunch of photo and stories,” Tickett said. “It made me want to join up and see what kind of fun he was having.”
He wasn’t too concerned with the change in elevation in the Lower 48 because he and his buddies grew up exploring the mountains outside his village. However, he was a little worried about the heat.

It was something that Mike Bradley, a safety coordinator at BLM AFS warned them during a pre-mobilization briefing on Saturday night. Before they head south, Type 2 crews typically get a briefing that includes safety concerns, expected weather and fire behavior they may encounter while on a fire in the Lower 48.

But heat and staying hydrated was the biggest concern for Arlo Beetus, the crew boss trainee with the K River Crew. It’s his 18th year as a wildland firefighter and fourth fire assignment as a crew boss trainee. He’s in no hurry with his training because he wants to make sure he gets it right because ultimately, it’s his responsibility to ensure his crew’s safety. It’s not a light burden to carry.

“That keeps you up at night,” he said. “Safety is paramount.”

To do that, he’ll be working on building relationship between some of the crew members who haven’t worked together before. The BLM AFS regionalized its EFF crews this year to accommodate for the lower number of EFF due to additional health standards and security screening requirements this year. This would give crews a larger pool to choose from when filling out rosters for assignments. While he knows everyone from his home village of Hughes, there were new faces from Allakaket.

“We need to have common ground as far as working together and having a relationship and being safe,” he said. “These guys want to work. You can tell by the guys’ attitude … They want to be here, they want to go out.”

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For more information, contact the interagency Fire Information office at (907)356-5511 or BLM AFS Public Affairs Specialist Beth Ipsen at eipsen@blm.gov or DOF Public Information Officer Tim Mowry at tim.mowry@alaska.gov.

Go to the Alaska DOF and BLM AFS Facebook pages to see more photos of the crew members as they gear up for mobilization.

DOF: https://www.facebook.com/pg/AK.Forestry/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1983400018389946

BLM AFS: https://www.facebook.com/pg/BLMAFS/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2286014488091828

About BLM Alaska Fire Service

The Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service (AFS) located at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, provides wildland fire suppression services for over 244 million acres of Department of the Interior and Native Corporation Lands in Alaska. In addition, AFS has other statewide responsibilities that include: interpretation of fire management policy; oversight of the BLM Alaska Aviation program; fuels management projects; and operating and maintaining advanced communication and computer systems such as the Alaska Lightning Detection System. AFS also maintains a National Incident Support Cache with a $10 million inventory. The Alaska Fire Service provides wildland fire suppression services for America’s “Last Frontier” on an interagency basis with the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Military in Alaska.

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