A grass roots effort begins to increase the number of women in fire

Women in Fire Bootcamp

The twelve participants of the Phoenix 2014 Women in Fire Bootcamp pose for a group shot during the Women in Fire Bootcamp Field Day September 13th, 2014. Photo by Tom Story.

The representation of women in the wildland fire business is currently somewhere around 10%, but some women have set out to increase that number.  One of their methods that seems to be working is the Women in Fire Bootcamp that took place in Albuquerque and Phoenix over two weekends in September as part of a Forest Service outreach program in Region Three (Arizona and New Mexico).

Founder Bequi Livingston of the Forest Service’s Regional Office in Albuquerque describes the origins in an email: “about ten years ago, I started talking the idea of a “Wildland Firefighter Boot Camp” here in the Region and there was not much interest at the time. As we continued struggling with recruitment and retention of women in wildland firefighting, especially here in Region 3, the idea came about to host a “Women In Wildland Fire Boot Camp” to target our female audience. Luckily, our FAM (Fire and Aviation Management) staff liked the idea and were willing to help fund our first Boot Camp back in March 2011. Our first Boot Camp in March 2011 was great and we had 20 candidates here in New Mexico and I believe, 14 in Arizona. We then hosted the Boot Camp again in March 2012 with not quite as many applicants and did not have a 2013 Boot Camp due to lack of funding. Last fall, I developed and submitted a proposal to the Forest Service FAM Diversity Program to receive funding and support to keep the efforts going. This was with much help from Helen Graham (Assistant Fire Management Officer-Tonto National Forest) in AZ and Linda Wadleigh (Mogollon Rim District Ranger-Coconino National Forest). Luckily we received special project funding through our Washington Office FAM to help fund and support the Boot Camp for the next three years.”

Women in Fire Bootcamp

The driving force in the Women in Fire Bootcamp, Bequi Livingston (center) addresses bootcamp participants during the first weekend of the event in Albuquerque, NM. September 7, 2014. PHOTO BY KRISTEN HONIG

Ms. Livingston continued: “Part of this history includes my personal story and challenges as one of the first women in wildland fire and also my experience in Region 5 with the horrid Consent Decree. One of my intentions is to provide a safe and trusting environment for these candidates with great instructors (men and women) to ensure that we set them up for success rather than failure.”

“Although the program’s intent is to recruit and train women as its target audience, we are very inclusive in that we accept and consider ALL (her emphasis) applicants equally, including males. In fact, we have our first male in our current New Mexico session and he’s been great. We did not get enough applicants to fill all our slots for the New Mexico Boot Camp and had several female applicants pull out, which left us with additional open slots. Josh turned in a good application, is very interested in the program and is in one of those slots. Although our primary intention is to recruit and train women as the target audience, we consider all applicants equally”, Ms. Livingston added.

Jeb Koons, a Fire Management Officer from the Coconino National Forest and one of the Arizona Bootcamp’s instructors summed it up this way: “the program is to recruit women, but once they are here, they are all firefighters”.

Jesse Causer  of the Coconino National Forest begins the classroom work at Women in Fire Bootcamp at Phoenix Interagency Fire Center @ Gateway on September 7th, 2014. Photo by Tom Story.

Jesse Causer of the Coconino National Forest begins the classroom work at Women in Fire Bootcamp at Phoenix Interagency Fire Center @ Gateway on September 7th, 2014. Photo by Tom Story.

So it was all classroom the first weekend, with more classroom work the second weekend with a field day hosted at the Tonto National Forest’s Goldfield Admin Site on the Mesa Ranger District. There the lectures were put into practice with hands on experience digging line, water handling, mop up, tool sharpening and fire shelter practice along with familiarization with firing devices, pumps, engines and getting used to working together as a crew.

Women in Fire Bootcamp

Bootcamp alumnus Katie Markey and Kaly Spinler, now both on the Coronado National Forest’s Engine 552 and this years bootcamp participants watch a small brush pile burn during the Women in Fire Bootcamp Field Day September 13th, 2014. Photo by Tom Story.

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USFS firefighters file harassment and sexual abuse complaint

Seven former and current female wildland firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service have filed a complaint against the Department of Agriculture alleging that they suffered job discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of male co-workers and that top agency officials failed to stop it.

Below are excerpts from an article in the New York Times:

…The women said the complaint, the first step in a potential class-action lawsuit, was filed late last month on behalf of hundreds of women who worked in the Forest Service’s Region 5, which encompasses more than 20 million acres in 18 national forests in California. The seven women who are the lead complainants said they faced retaliation when they reported the offenses to superiors.

The complaint was the latest in a number of race and gender disputes in the Agriculture Department, the parent agency of the Forest Service. In recent years the department has settled a class-action suit brought by Native American farmers, offered payments to Hispanic and female farmers who alleged discrimination and approved a $1.15 billion settlement with black farmers, decades after the farmers said that they were denied loans and subject to racial discrimination in agriculture programs.

In response to the firefighters, a Forest Service official said the agency would review the complaint and was focused on correcting any problems. “The Forest Service takes these and all allegations of civil rights violations very seriously and is committed to providing a work environment that is free of harassment and discrimination,” said Lenise Lago, the Forest Service’s deputy chief of business operations.

[...]

[One of the current complainants, Alicia] Dabney said that her supervisor, who is still employed by the Forest Service, put her in a chokehold and tried to rape her in 2012. In another instance, she said, fliers with the words “Alicia Dabney is a whore” were left on the floor of the fire station.

She said that after she reported the harassment, the Forest Service fired her in 2012, citing what her superiors said was her failure to disclose her past criminal record on her job application. Ms. Dabney said that the agency had long known about her record and that “this was dredged up after I complained.”

 

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Man charged with arson for starting the King Fire

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s office has arrested a man for intentionally starting what has become the 73,184-acre King Fire west of Lake Tahoe, California. Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, of Pollock Pines was charged Thursday morning with a single count of arson of forest land. The charges include a special allegation — arson with aggravating factors. The complaint said those factors are:

A firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency personnel suffered great bodily injury as a result of the offense.

Wayne Allen Huntsman

Wayne Allen Huntsman

The criminal complaint, below, shows four past felonies, including three 1997 convictions in Santa Cruz County which include assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft and auto theft.

CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers, in conjunction with the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office cooperated to bring the charges against Mr. Huntsman.

Several media outlets are reporting that he is being held in lieu of $10-million bail.

DA Announces Filing of Criminal Complaint Against Wayne Allen Huntsman

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Fire retardant paint saved a structure? Nope.

I received an email that listed some fire-related news articles, and one of the headlines got my attention:

Fire Retardant Paint Saved Calif. Timber Mill Building

The link took me to an article at Firehouse.com that the website lifted from the Associated Press, and sure enough, there was that headline. I had never heard of paint saving a building from a wildfire, so I was quite curious. I quickly scanned the article looking for how a building was saved by paint, and didn’t see it, so I read the whole thing more carefully.

It was referring to the Boles Fire that burned 150 structures in Weed, California. Much of the story covered the impacts to the damaged lumber mill and the 170 workers. Here is what the headline writer saw that resulted in the misleading headline:

With a maintenance shed reduced to twisted sheet-metal and the main manufacturing facility suffering structural damage, but still standing with a new coat of pink fire retardant, the Roseburg Forest Products veneer mill on the outskirts of Weed was out of commission Tuesday while workers began assessing the damage, said Kellye Wise, vice president for human resources of the company based in Dillard, Oregon.

There was no indication in the article of how much damage was done to the facility, including if it was “saved”, or not, by air tankers dropping retardant, or house paint. The mill has their own fire crew responsible for fighting fires within the facility, and air tankers were not mentioned in the article, except indirectly: “pink fire retardant”.

The same AP story published at the Daily Mail, a UK paper in a country having little experience with large wildfires, had a different headline:

Fire damage to mill another blow to timber town

Often the person that writes the headline is not the author of the story, and this is not the first time that a headline has been misleading.

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