Idaho National Guard sends first wildland firefighting crew to northern Idaho
Idaho Military Division Public Affairs/Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur
Idaho National Guard Soldiers and Airmen made organizational history by sending wildland Firefighter Type 2 Red Card certified Guardsmen to northern Idaho to fight fires for the first time. The newly assigned crewmembers of the Task Force Timber Shield left Boise Aug. 4 to assist the Idaho Department of Lands’ mission of containing more than 15 significant wildland fires currently burning in Idaho.
It is the first time the IDL requested Idaho Gov. Brad Little to issue an emergency declaration for making Idaho National Guard resources available to assist fighting against fires on the ground. For some Guardsmen, the volunteer notice came early in July and they immediately began training to earn their FFT2 Incident Qualification Cards, commonly known as a Red Card certification.
“I made sure my name was on that list when I heard the call for volunteers,” said 2nd Lt. Travis Stice. “It will be hard, physical labor, which I am excited for. I told my son that I was going to leave to go fight fires and he said, ‘but you are in the Army, you’re not a firefighter,’ and I said, ‘We do everything, buddy.’”
Stice is one of 72 Guardsmen who has earned his Red Card and more personnel are currently completing the training in anticipation of additional missions. He joined the Idaho National Guard four years ago and this is his first State Active Duty mission as a Guardsman.
“I am very excited that this is a state mission,” Stice said. “It’s the reason I signed up for the Idaho National Guard, to help the citizens of Idaho, along with serving my country. I just love my fellow Idahoans. I called my employer with one day’s notice and they said ‘awesome, just come back safe and we’ll work everything out when you come back.’ They were very supportive even with the short notice.”
The additional training for more Red Card certified Guardsmen stemmed after the governor issued the emergency declaration July 9 to mobilize Idaho National Guard fire line FFT2 qualified personnel to work on active wildfire efforts on the 6.2 million acres of land across mostly northern Idaho where IDL provides fire protection.
The FFT2 crew consists of sixteen fully trained Idaho Guardsmen. The IDL provided one crew boss and two squad bosses to complete a full nineteen-man crew.
“We are currently training more Soldiers and Airmen as they volunteer for this mission in the hopes of building a large capacity consisting of several hand crews,” said Lt. Col. Tony Vincelli, commander of Task Force Timber Shield. “This is the kind of mission that makes serving in the National Guard so unique and rewarding. I hope Soldiers and Airmen see how rewarding this mission is and truly understand the impact they could have.”
The Guardsmen were issued firefighting personal protective equipment, fire-resistant clothing, hand tools and sleeping accommodations just prior to leaving.
“The boots on the ground, physical labor of this kind of work is different than anything I have ever done in my career,” said Maj. Robin Kiska, from the 224th Cyber Operations Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. “It’s like an extreme hiking adventure in extreme conditions. It will be hard work but a welcomed challenge.”
The governor’s emergency declaration also authorized other personnel to support fire logistic activities and make National Guard aircraft resources available.
Currently, the Idaho National Guard has two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and pilots, crew chiefs, refueling crew and essential maintenance personnel assisting with aerial firefighting by delivering water using large capacity “Bambi Buckets,” or helicopter buckets, suspended from helicopter cables. The UH-60 Black Hawk crews have been assisting Idaho’s mission this fire season since July 13 and have dropped more than 187,096 gallons of water on several fires.
Additionally, a request for help at the Idaho Fire Cache warehouse in Coeur d’Alene sent eight Guardsmen on July 21 to provide logistical and operational support of daily refurbishment operation to include palletizing orders, building kits, cleaning, repackaging firefighting hoses and pulling stock of supplies and equipment for state and federal wildland firefighters.
The IDL, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and the Idaho National Guard developed a partnership a few years ago through a Joint Powers Agreement, defining the process involved in interagency coordination, support, training and planning during times of emergency involving mutual aid of wildland fire relief within Idaho.
“Today marked yet another milestone in the proud history of the Idaho National Guard as wildland firefighter ground crews mobilized and deployed to support the growing wildland fire threats across our state,” said Brig. Gen. Russ Johnson, director of the Idaho National Guard Joint Staff. “Our National Guard service members – and their families – have again answered the call to support the citizens of Idaho during this volatile fire season.”
Currently, around the country more than 770 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from eight states are assisting with fighting wildland fires. Four UH-60 Black Hawks, two CH-47 Chinooks and one UH-72 Lakota are supporting aviation wildfire operations across the nation. Four C-130 crews are in California, Nevada and Wyoming equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems. To date, National Guard MAFFS crews have made 357 drops and flown 366 sorties in support of the fires across the United States. The National Interagency Fire Center reports over 38,200 fires have burned a total of 3.2 million acres across 14 states.