It began early this summer far to our north, in the sprawling forests of spruce, cedar and tamarack. For Pennsylvania-based firefighters it would be the first call of many in the hell that was the 2015 wildfire season.
Video of infernos devouring homes and racing across busy highways are locked in our mind's eye. For 206 men and women hailing from the Keystone State they were a way of life for two weeks after volunteering to answers the call—one that first came from Alaska.
By the close of the wildfire season, similar requests came from California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
A total of seven 20-person crews would be deployed from Pennsylvania under direction of the Bureau of Forestry to these states to battle wildfires. The first two flew off to Alaska to help at a time when, in the words of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, “over 5 million acres burned—the second worst fire season Alaska has seen since the 1950s.”
In a recent letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, Alaska’s governor extended his “sincerest thanks for sending firefighters from Pennsylvania to help fight Alaska’s wildfires … and the work and assistance of the agencies and officials that deployed firefighting personnel …”
“We were greatly assisted in our fighting of these fires because of efforts and resources provided from the ‘Lower 48’ and Canada, standing alongside our own Alaskan crews,” Gov. Walker said in his letter. “From grounds crews and heavy equipment operators to smoke jumpers, helicopter and plane crews and pilots, and everyone in between, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.”
In addition to the 20-person crews of men and women deployed to fight wildfires, individual volunteers regularly were flown out to distant states for a two-week tour of service, bringing the total number of individuals volunteering in 2015 to 206.
Included were two crews who drove two specially equipped Bureau of Forestry wildfire fighting engines to Western states to help in firefighting operations. Those engines and crews saw service in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
(Photo: Driving the truck and helping fight wildfires out there were (from left) Ryan Ling, of the Moshannon State Forest District; Todd Breininger, with the Bureau’s Forest Fire Protection Division in Harrisburg; Andrew Baker, Tuscarora State Forest District; and Joe Engel, Loyalsock State Forest District.)
“The commitment of these men and women, coming not just from our Bureau of Forestry, but other state agencies and local volunteer fire companies, is incredible,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, who often greeted or bid farewell to fire crews returning from or leaving for assignments. “Deservedly, over the years, we have seen our people regularly receive high reviews for their training, attitude and knowledge.
"After training and their out-of-state assignments, these Pennsylvania firefighters bring home more than the satisfaction of giving 100 percent. They bring back first-hand knowledge to help them fight large fires in our woodlands,” Dunn said. “They know how to work as a team in the face of impending disasters.
“There is a strong underlying ‘You help me, I’ll help you’ approach to this cooperative effort. If we ever face a major wildfire in Pennsylvania, we know help is just a phone call away.’
For more information, visit DCNR’s Wildland Fire webpage.(Reprinted from the November 18 edition of the Resource newsletter from DCNR. Click Here to sign up for your own copy (bottom of the page).)