A fire crew made up of veterans

Folsom Lake Veterans, a Type 2 Initial Attack Crew

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Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew
Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. BLM photo.

By Jennifer Myslivy & Erin McDuff

It just makes sense to match our veterans’ skills with wildland firefighting. From teamwork to decisive leadership; risk mitigation to management; logistics to emergency medicine, many of the skills our veterans learned in the military translate to wildland firefighting.

The Bureau of Land Management launched a Veteran Fire Crews program in 2012 to provide more jobs for veterans while benefiting from their vast experience and increasing the number of wildland firefighters available during our increasingly severe wildfire seasons.

Folsom Lake IHC logoThe Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew in California combines military veterans with seasoned wildland firefighters to form this type 2 initial attack hand crew, which is responsible for constructing fire lines while also capable of separating into smaller squads to conduct initial wildfire suppression activities.

This crew provides an opportunity for veterans to learn about the wildland fire management field and gain critical skills that will prepare them for a full career in wildland firefighting.

Meet Conell McKinney

Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew
Conell McKinney, Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. Photo by Joe Bradshaw, BLM.

An Army veteran from Santa Clarita, California, Conell McKinney served in the infantry.
He now works as a wildland firefighter with the Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. “The self-discipline the Army instilled in me helped quite a bit with my transition to wildland firefighting and with understanding how to operate in less-than-ideal environments,” he explained.

The advice he would like to share with others that may be interested in wildland firefighting is, “Train hard. The work is like nothing you’ve done before!”

Meet Roger Hooper

Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew
Roger Hooper, Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. Photo by Joe Bradshaw, BLM.

During the 2021 fire season, the Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew trained 200 active-duty Army soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who were dispatched to assist with wildfire suppression operations.

Roger Hooper, a crewmember and infantry veteran from Nevada City, Nevada, noticed many military skillsets that helped the soldiers transition in firefighting, including hard work, discipline, the ability to stay calm in complex situations, teamwork, and resource management.

When asked for advice for those interested in wildland firefighting, Hooper said “Maintain good physical shape and apply for a variety of fire jobs because there is one out there that you will enjoy!”

Meet Jaime Velasquez

Jaime Velasquez is a crewmember from Sacramento, California. He’s a veteran of the National Guard and served as a water purification specialist. He came to the Bureau of Land Management with prior firefighting experience from when his National Guard unit was activated by the state to fight wildfires in 2014.

Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew
Left: Jaime Velasquez serving in the National Guard. Photo courtesy of Jamie Velasquez. Right: Jamie Velasquez serving on the Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew. Photo by Joe Bradshaw, BLM.

During the Joint Base Lewis-McChord deployment this season, Velasquez enjoyed seeing how motivated they were to learn the job and the opportunity to hear some of their stories and experiences.

Firefighting Job Opportunities for Veterans

Are you a veteran, or do you know a veteran, who is looking for a new, exciting career? For anyone who wants to work in a field that is physically and mentally challenging, gets you outdoors, provides opportunities for travel, delivers occasional spikes of adrenaline, and serves the greater good, wildland fire checks a lot of boxes and can benefit from the expertise of veterans.

The Interior Department is hiring to fill hundreds of wildland fire management jobs this fall. The positions are located throughout the country, and more are posted on usajobs.gov each day.

You can learn more about working in wildland fire on our website. Before you start on an application, check out firejobs.doi.gov, along with these pro tips and video tutorials on how to apply.

We promise, it’s not your ordinary job!

Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew
The Folsom Lake Veterans’ Crew at the Dixie Fire in California, 2021. Photo by Joe Bradshaw, BLM.

Jennifer Myslivy is a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Wildland Fire.

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12 thoughts on “A fire crew made up of veterans”

  1. Folsom Lake veterans crew is top notch. BLM has much to be proud of with their veteran’s crew program — Medford, Lakeview, Folsom Lake, and many others. There are some great leaders on all those crews. Nice job, Folsom Lake.

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  2. Kudos to the vets, but I don’t understand the point of this article. Is this suppose to be a pat on the back for BLM for doing what they are legally supposed to be doing? Because, when I worked for the NPS, FS, Air Force, and Army veterans always got preference. In fact, the hiring process is different when you have a vet vs. best qualified. I’m sorry, I just don’t get this article.

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  3. Umatilla also has a makeup of the same type of crew, only difference is USFS. Great opportunity and bunch of guys/gals.

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  4. im just curious where they are based,is it in the folsom cal area ? where folsom lake is?..im just curious.

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  5. There may be an article from a large publication in DC covering some homeless crewmembers on Folsom Lake soon… Guess the BLM left that out that piece

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  6. This isn’t a knock on BLM, but I find this type of propaganda highly misleading.

    Folsom Lake Veterans crew was a Hotshot Crew, but they could not retain their crew, and has been downgraded to a Type-II crew.

    Wages are low while suicides and divorces are high. Mental health is not meaningfully addressed, and work/life balance is non-existent.

    BLM and USFS both apply for special “direct hire authority” which takes away veterans preference for job applicants as well.

    Why promote this job when we all know it’s unsustainable?

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    1. Ben, I mean no disrespect, I’m just trying to understand…you said “direct hire authority” takes away veterans preference. I don’t think that’s true, because when a vet or spousal preference applies to a job with the government there is a different process. When a vet or spousal preference applies you have to choose between them first or scrub the posting. If you have a vet or spousal preference you can’t even look at the best qualified. Again, no disrespect, I just don’t understand. I’ve hired people thru the NPS, FS, Air Force, and Army and vets and spousal preference comes first. I don’t like it, but that’s the process.

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      1. No disrespect here at all, but some hiring authorities and processes have changed quite a bit since you may have hired last. The Direct Hire Authority (DHA) is an appointing (hiring) authority that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can give to Federal agencies for filling vacancies when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists. The purpose of DHA is to enable an agency to hire, after public notice is given, any qualified applicant without regard to 5 U.S.C. 3309-3318, 5 CFR part 211, or 5 CFR part 337, subpart A. A DHA expedites hiring by eliminating competitive rating and ranking, veterans’ preference, and “rule of three” procedures. Does Veterans Preference apply? No. Veterans preference does not apply when selecting individuals under DHA. When agencies select individuals under DHA, the law allows agencies to hire them without regard to sections 5 U.S.C. 3309-3318, which eliminates the requirement for applying veterans preference. Qualified candidates with veterans’ preference should be selected as they are found, just as any qualified non-preference eligible candidate would be.

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    2. Ben, I appreciate your passion and your advocacy for wildland firefighters. I really respect what you have done to shine a light on the current issues. I feel obligated to clear up a few things you mentioned since I’ve spent nearly a decade of my adult life working on this crew. Folsom Lake is a Veterans Crew, we’ve built ourselves on the foundation of recruiting and training Veterans as firefighters..the last few years 80-90% of the individuals that work on the crew are Military Veterans, many of whom have had multiple combat deployments. We do have a high standard, we strive for the same retention, but we were never a hotshot crew, nor did we ever intend to be one, that was never our mission. I will say the individuals that I’ve been lucky enough to work with on Folsom Lake are about as type1 as they come.. The last 2 years our crew is seeing the negative effects of retention, like every other federal crew. Also like many crews , there’s no shortage of crew members living out of their vehicles during fire season, coming back year after year for no benefits and seasonal jobs. This job obviously takes a toll on all of us, and our families, but at the end of the day it’s the life we’ve chosen, we’re all co enablers here. We love this job to some extent, and we do it until the sacrifice becomes unbearable or unaffordable. I’m a huge fan of Grassroots and what the organization has accomplished in a short amount of time, but I have also worked with quite a few dedicated people in the BLM and USFS, many of them pretty high in the org chart that have been promoting the agency while pushing for change from the inside for a long time.
      Thanks

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