Monday, September 16, 2013

Harpers Ferry NHP Entry No. 5: Conclusion

The summer has ended, along with my second internship at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. It has been a while since my last blog entry so I have much to catch everyone up on. But first I want to congratulate all of the ProRangers who have successfully graduated from SLETP at the Ambler campus of Temple University. Job well done!

My supervisor at Harpers Ferry was very diligent with trying to get me as much training as possible before the summer was over. Luckily enough, he was able to sign me up for the ASI ATV Rider Course. My supervisor and I attended the day long training at Ferry Hill, a part of the C&O Canal. The training was ran by one of the Canal's LE rangers who is a licensed ATV instructor.  We first went over the safety procedures before riding the ATVs, like the pre-ride inspection and the correct way to operate the different types of ATVs. Then my supervisor and I participated in the driving course that was set up for us. After getting used to switching gears smoothly, I had a lot of fun and felt comfortable maneuvering the ATV around the course at different speeds. We both successfully completed the course and became certified to drive ATVs at work for the NPS.

Before the summer came to an end, I also completed a maintenance project up on the Maryland Heights Trail of HAFE. Many of the waysides needed replacement signs due to weathering or vandalism. We hiked up the mountain carrying seven large signs and replaced each one while reinstalling the rivets that secured them. It was pretty hard work, especially since I picked one of the hottest days of the summer to complete the task. But it was a very important job. Many people hike up this trail each day and without visible educational waysides, the historical significance of the mountain would be overlooked.

Salmon River Complex Wildland Fire

Over the summer I had completed all of my online wildland fire training, including NWCG's S-190 Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior and S-130 Firefighter Training. I also successfully passed the field training and the pack test which is a 3 mile walk in under 45 minutes carrying a 45 lb pack. I became a certified wildland firefighter and quickly put myself in the system as available to go out on the next fire crew for the NCR. The whole summer went by with no call, until the last day before my availability would be cut off due to the school semester. I got the call from my supervisor, telling me we were going to Northern California and had one day to pack before we began our travel at 0600 the next morning. That Monday morning we met with the rest of our Type-II IA crew and travelled down to Knoxville, TN where we would fly out the next day. We flew into the Redding Air Attack Base located at the CAL FIRE Northern Operations Center in Redding, CA. After flying into Redding, we found out which fire, out of many, that our crew was going to be stationed at. It was the Salmon River Complex located in Klamath National Forest, about 40 miles from the Oregon border. After about another 3 hour drive or so, we finally arrived at base camp. At arrival, fire was very large, comprised of over 1000 people. Also at arrival, the fire was at about 7800 acres in size and only 16% contained. There were 40 engines, 7 helicopters, 6 dozers, and 14 tenders being utilized. Around 50 structures were threatened. A Red Flag Warning was established for most of the week due to changing winds and thunderstorms. The terrain was noted to be very steep and difficult.

The first few days we started work, we were stationed at Division Bravo. The dozer line had already been started, but we needed to continue and clear out a hand line across the mountain ridge, which was about 6000 feet in elevation. I took turns switching tools with my squad members so I could get comfortable using each one. I enjoyed using the McLeod most of all in this specific type of rocky terrain. I also helped out as a swamper on Bravo when we began to manually widen the dozer line. I assisted my squad's Class B sawyer by moving out the heavy debris he had just recently cut down with his chainsaw and moving it over to the green.

After working up in Bravo, we had to create a cup trench along a part of one of the main roads that travels throughout KNF. The purpose of the trench was to keep hot debris from crossing the road when rolling down the mountain which was located in the black. We had to cover a 5 mile long area. During this time, I became familiar with poison oak. I also had become familiar with how dehydration feels, a consequence from the days before and not drinking the appropriate amount of water. I learned to never do that again.

The next days were spent in Division Sierra. First we traversed through a decent sized creek, removing snags and foliage that crossed over to the other side. Then we hiked a few miles up the fire line to where the Lassen NF crew was about to perform a back burn. My crew held the line by watching the green, making sure nothing crossed over. During the middle of the back burn, the LNF crew allowed my squad boss (who was also my HAFE supervisor) and I use the drip torches for a while. We walked about 3 chains in from the fire line and lit up the brush along the way, in lines that were spaced about 10 feet apart. We continued this pattern all the way down the fire line until we had finished the back burn area. This was an amazing opportunity and experience for me to practice with the dip torch on my first fire. It was also a ton of fun and I will never forget the adrenaline rush I got that day. I want to thank the Lassen crew again for allowing me to assist them with the burn. After the back burn, the following days were spent mopping up. To me, mop-up is one of the most fun for jobs out on a fire because you can get extremely dirty. A complete mop-up of this area took a few days. There were many large hot spots. We had a few engines going, so the hose lay that ran along the fire line was utilized for these spots.

We were sent to Division Echo for one day to finish with mop up. Again, we worked with an engine crew that fed us water up and down the mountain. There were not as many hot areas in this division. It cooled over pretty well. But it is where I saw my first rattle snake which was very exciting! It ran away from me when I tried to get close enough, so I could not get a better picture than this one on the side.

Division Tango was the last division we were stationed at during the fire. We spent about half of the last week there. We saved the best for last as the walk up the fire line went straight uphill, about 3000 feet in elevation in about 2 hours. The nickname for the fire line was the "Trail of Tears" throughout the different crews. Footing was a major safety issue here. The mission for Tango was again mop-up. But the terrain here was too steep for any engines to get near. Therefore the hose lay along the fire line was fed by air drops from the helicopter. Hiking up to the midway point of the fire line was a treat because here we were able to watch the helicopter drop its water loads into the tank. A Mark-3 pump fed the water up and down the hose lay for us to use. During our mop-up operation, our sawyers had their work cut out for them with snags that had to be fallen. I occasionally spotted for the sawyers when they needed my help.

 The snag of all snags.

The last two days at Tango were hard work. The fire had spread to the the edge of Jack-ass Creek rather quickly and without warning. My crew and the other Virginia crew were the only ones left to create a direct attack against the fire before it crossed the other side of Jack-ass and into the green.  We ran through the fire carrying the hose lay and quickly connected them together before it opened up to the engine. We extinguished all the flames and the hot spots, including one extremely massive snag. After a very successful direct attack, the next day we picked up almost 6000 feet of installed hose lay and brought them back to the road to get taken back to camp. 

It was a very sad day when we left the Klamath. I grew attached to the woods and attached to my crew. When we left, the fire was around 14,000 acres in size and about 85% contained. There were around 550 people, 32 engines, 1 dozer, 18 tenders, and 6 helicopters left.  For a first fire, a firefighter could not ask for more. Our crew did it all. Hose lay, hand line, mop-up, falling, swamping, direct attack, back burn, and assisted with helicopter drops. It was the best two weeks of my life and I cannot wait to do it again. I have become addicted to wildland firefighting.

The fire ended my summer internship. This summer was extremely educational and motivational. Over the course of my time at HAFE, I think I built a great foundation to a career in law enforcement. I owe it all to my supervisor who really got me involved with LE experiences. Before this summer, I had very little. Now I am more than comfortable with saying that I want and will be US Park Ranger one day very soon. Thank you to everyone at Harpers Ferry NHP that worked with me this summer.

Currently I am back at school. I am going to the Ambler campus for a Bachelors in Horticulture. I have just begun an EMT course at the local community college near my house in South Jersey. This 9 month course. My goal is to successfully complete the course and the NREMT to be nationally registered as an Emergency Medical Technician.
I have also just recently assisted Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine with their Defender's Day celebration this past weekend. I had a blast working with my fellow ProRangers directing traffic and checking bags at the access point. I want to thank FOMC for allowing us to be a part of such prestigious event and giving us even more invaluable experiences.

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