Tom Sadowski, El Cariso Hotshots, 1969-1972

Tom Sadowski
Tom Sadowski. Photo by Bill Gabbert, circa 1972.

A former El Cariso Hotshot passed away unexpectedly on June 16. Tom Sadowski was on the crew from 1969 through 1972.

Tom was unique — if you spent much time with him you would remember him. He was one of the smartest people I ever met. I learned from him. As young and dumb as I was, I had much room in my little brain for knowledge about wildland firefighting and how the world works. For a year we were roommates in the hotshot barracks up the hill from the hotshot camp in the Orange County facilities. At night there was not much to do so we talked or read. He taught me a great deal about photography and with his guidance I purchased my first 35mm camera of my own, a Minolta, after using a very old Argus that was my mom’s.

One year Tom drove with his girlfriend from his home in New England 2,500 miles to our base near Elsinore, California in a very old, army surplus jeep. He was pulled over more than once for driving too slow.

He admired well-built machinery that was made to last with heavy duty materials. We were on a fire in Wyoming and Tom had climbed on top of a large old water tender to check it out. I was taking a picture of him with my old beat-up Argus. When I pressed the shutter, I could hear and feel the guts of the camera come apart. I shook it and it rattled, which is never a good sign. I blamed Tom then for breaking my camera. I still do. I took a picture of him and he literally broke the damn camera.

Tom Sadowski
Tom Sadowski resting on a cot and a paper sleeping bag. Photo by Bill Gabbert, around 1971.

When Tom was on the crew there was no standard training curriculum in the USFS for new firefighters. At the direction of crew Superintendent Ron Campbell our crew developed a four-day basic training package which became known as the “Basic 32-hour Package”.

Tom taught us how to build a slide program of illustrations, graphics, photos, narration, and visual aids that was automatically advanced by silent cues on a taped narration.

There were no personal computers then, and we made all of our graphics using hand-drawn images, artist supplies, press-on letters, and a 35mm camera, mostly Tom’s, but I also contributed some images.

Tom Sadowski
Rick Bondar (L) and Tom Sadowski in 1972 working on what became the Basic 32-hour Fire Training for new employees.

When the training package was finished in 1972 or 1973, it required a Wollensak cassette recorder and a 35mm slide projector, but eventually was converted to VHS tapes and was used with the workbooks in many locations around the country for training new firefighters.

In 1972 Tom and I sent some of our fire photos and a proposal to National Geographic hoping they would pay us handsomely. We received a very nice declination letter from someone there named, and I have not forgotten this, “Smokey”. He explained that they liked our photos, but that they had done a wildland fire story 3-4 years before and it was too soon to do another one.

After fighting fires in Southern California Tom worked for the BLM in Alaska and worked his way up to the position of Assistant Fire Management Officer. In the 1980s I visited him at his home on a hill that had a very nice view of Anchorage. I knew he was an excellent photographer, but was surprised to see that he had a full-blown studio with fancy lighting and various backgrounds on spools that could be pulled down behind his subject.

In 2008 Tom recreated the El Cariso Hotshots logo for the commemoration of their 50th year. I’m not sure that he ever received proper credit for that project.

In his later years Tom lived in Maine and for a while he and his wife ran a women’s clothing store and later a restaurant and bar.

He and I stayed in touch by email exchanging messages every one to three years.

He wrote a regular humor column, “Just Saying”, that ran in at least one newspaper, The Free Press in Maine, where an archive of his columns is still available. If you only read one, check out a tribute to him written by Ethan Andrews, “Remembering Tom Sadowski”, which includes Tom’s own thoughts about how to write his “autobituary”. (UPDATE Dec. 26, 2021: The previous three links no longer work, but the WayBackMachine has retained some of the archives.)

Tom Sadowski
Tom Sadowski in 1975. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

We have published some of Tom’s writings on Wildfire Today. In 2013 he contributed a large section of our tribute to former El Cariso Superintendent Ron Campbell.  In 2015 he wrote about the passing of Fred Rungee, “Alaska resident, forest fire control veteran and humanitarian.”

Continue reading “Tom Sadowski, El Cariso Hotshots, 1969-1972”

How much sleep do tactical athletes need?

sleep firefighter
Tom Sadowski, El Cariso Hotshots, 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Charles Palmer, an associate professor at the University of Montana who studies performance psychology of wildland firefighters, has called them “tactical athletes”. Mr. Palmer, who spent 20 years as a firefighter and smokejumper, has said:

These aren’t people who ride around in trucks and squirt water on stuff — this is really demanding from a lot of different angles. You travel around, you have to perform, they’re getting very little downtime, they have nutritional challenges … physically you have to perform really well.

A study of wildland firefighters during suppression activities in Spain found that heart rates ranged from 116 to 133 beats per minute depending on the length of the work. Researchers in Australia measured heart rates of firefighters operating hand tools that were 95 percent of their predicted maximal.

When we read an article at the Monday Morning Quarterback about managing the sleep of professional football players, we could’t help but make the comparison between those athletes and the ones who fight wildfires for a living.

According to the piece by Jennie Vrentas, an increasing number of NFL teams are emphasizing an adequate amount of sleep for their players. Below are some excerpts from the article:

A good night’s sleep is directly tied to key factors such as reaction time, mental alertness, muscular recovery and converting what you’ve recently learned into memory. That’s why the science of slumber has become one of the hottest trends in the NFL: Teams are no longer leaving it to chance that their multimillion dollar investments will manage sleep cycles all on their own.

The Dolphins and Patriots have dark rooms at their practice facilities so players can take naps. Eagles players fill out a morning questionnaire on their tablets, self-reporting how long and how well they slept the previous night.

If you run on four hours of sleep a night for a week, it’s the same as drinking a six-pack and then going to work.

“The average athlete probably needs eight to nine hours of sleep, given their physical demands,” [Washington team physician Anthony] Czeisler says, and even more if you can get it. “I wish I could say there’s a shortcut, but if you are going to be a professional athlete, you need to pay careful attention to sleep.”

A single all-nighter, or a week spent getting just four hours of sleep a night, can make one’s reaction time nearly three times slower.

The article refers to studies completed on football and basketball players, but there has also been research on how sleep affects wildland firefighters. In a study of firefighters in Australia during a four-day simulation of an assignment on a wildland fire, it was found that after two nights of being restricted to four hours of sleep their performance on a hand-eye coordination task declined. However their work output remained about the same even after consecutive nights of restricted sleep.

In a related study in Australia, Grace Vincent, a PhD student at Deakin University reported:

The firefighters report [that while working on actual fires they get] only about four to five hours sleep per night. They have trouble sleeping due to other people snoring in locations such as cabins, tents or the floor of school gyms.  Some are simply so wired after spending the whole day in emergency-mode, that they can’t switch off.

This is consistent with research in the United states, in Technology and Development Publication, Wildland Firefighter Health and Safety Report, Issue Number 13, Summer 2009:

…Sleeping in fire camp can be a challenge. Noise from generators, vehicles, and other firefighters all contribute to sleeplessness. Because almost all wildland firefighters need to sleep either in fire camps or in spike camps, they sleep in tents, on the ground, and in hot, smoky, and dusty conditions. Shift work interferes with sleep, especially for those on night shift.

Sleep log data were collected on members of five incident management teams at fire camps in California and Montana during 2008. [Note from Bill: this data appears to be from overhead team members in fire camp, not “tactical athletes” out in the field.] Data for 140 team members (36 percent female, 64 percent male) indicated that they averaged 6.1 hours of sleep, ranging from 3.5 to 9.0 hours per night. On average, team members went to bed at 9:30 p.m. They reported being awakened an average of 2.2 times per night, awakening from zero to six times per night. When team members were asked to rate the quality of their sleep, the average was 6.6 on a 10-point scale. Nearly one-fourth (23.8 percent) reported feeling tired when they woke, while 53.6 percent felt somewhat rested, 20.2 percent felt rested, and 2.4 percent felt very rested.

Eight hours of rest between work periods is inadequate because only 50 to 75 percent of the rest period is devoted to sleep. Thus it is advisable to have longer rest periods (10 to 14 hours) so workers have time for adequate sleep.

Total sleep deprivation for 1 week has led to cognitive impairment when work requires multitasking. In driving, accidents increase as sleep duration is decreased. In tasks requiring judgment, risky behaviors emerge when sleep is limited to 5 hours per night.

Behavioral alertness and a range of cognitive functions, including sustained attention, and working memory deteriorate when nightly sleep is limited to between 4 and 7 hours. Decisionmaking skills, such as the ability to assess risk, assimilate changing information, and revise strategies to solve problems based on new information are likely to suffer.

Eight hours of rest between work periods is inadequate because only 50 to 75 percent of the rest period is devoted to sleep. Thus it is advisable to have longer rest periods (10 to 14 hours) so workers have time for adequate sleep.

What about naps?

The same publication recommended naps when possible, but the length is important:

Naps restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce the risk of mistakes. To avoid waking up groggy and exhausted, workers should nap for 20 to 30 minutes OR for longer than 90 minutes. A one-hour nap places you in the middle of deep sleep, making it difficult to wake up. You will be disoriented and clumsy, might make poor decisions, and could be at risk of an injury. A 20-minute nap ends before you descend into deep sleep; a 90-minute nap catches you rising out of deep sleep.

Fred Rungee, fire veteran and humanitarian, dies at 93


Fred Rungee
Fred Rungee. Photo by Tom Sadowski.

Fred Rungee, Alaska resident, forest fire control veteran and humanitarian died on Friday, March 27th, 2015, at the age of 93 after valiantly fighting several health problems. Born in City Point in New Haven, Connecticut, he attended Wesleyan University and was immensely proud of his service to his country as a conscientious objector with the fledgling Smokejumpers of the Civilian Public Service program during World War II. He diligently worked toward a world at peace throughout his entire life.

As a woodsman, Fred Rungee qualified as a True Alaskan. He was an adventurer who looked comfortable in a canoe or kayak, on snowshoes or a motorcycle, in an ice boat, helicopter, or Oldsmobile. More often than not he could be found in the woods, on foot with his double bit axe (of which he was one of the last masters), his model 70 Winchester hunting rifle and a 60 pound pack. He was a true leader by example, who after a brief residency in Montana made his home in Alaska where he worked for the Bureau of Land Management as the Fire Management Officer of the Glennallen District responsible for all forest fire control in that area –about the size of New York State.

In the early 1950’s it was only Fred Rungee and “Judge” Henderson who handled all of the fires in the district and it was not unusual to come back to the station after camping out on a fire for a few days to find a number of notes tacked to the door reporting new fires in the area. He is credited in reports as far back as 1953 for “dedication and fortitude… in keeping fires of this area within manageable limits”. In 1972 he was awarded a Bronze Smokey Bear Award –the highest national honor for outstanding contributions to statewide fire prevention efforts. In one incident, he chanced upon a slow moving fire while in the back country in Alaska on a dirt bike in the vicinity of the Klutina “road”. Unable to get help and refusing to leave a potentially disastrous fire, he took a good deal of time and effort to cut a line around the fire –with his pocket knife.

Of his more than 70 years in Alaska, he resided primarily in the town of Glennallen although he was an avid traveler. Upon retirement in 1978, he moved to the Slana area to a cabin which he himself built two and a half miles from the nearest road. Packing all the materials and even a massive wood stove he needed for the cabin on foot, he did concede using a buckboard to move in his piano. Over the years, hundreds of people made the 5 mile round trip hike just to visit and experience his rare charismatic charm.

He had a huge influence on people because he was unusually kind and exceptionally tolerant. He was more than willing to listen to everyone and offer them his genuine, heartfelt support. He was more than generous; he was magnanimous and notwithstanding this greatness, he was genuinely humble.

New recruits assigned to his district were sometime suspicious of his delightful demeanor as they felt no one man could be that nice. He had courtesy to spare and his own brand of wilderness grace. Newcomers might have tested him but his niceness was invariable and unassailable. Fred Rungee would win people over and then they would start being nice –or more agreeable than they had been. Some even competed to be nicer than Fred but that top spot of human decency had already been claimed through a lifetime of practice –a lifestyle of generosity and a lifelong commitment to peace and harmony.

Rungee never discounted people. It didn’t matter if they were spurned by society and semiconscious in some substance induced stupor, he always reached out to help. Fred was a model to all he met. Never preaching, he taught human decency by example. He also taught piano and hockey to young Alaskans and befriended so many local Alaskan Natives that he was named an honorary member of the Mentasta Tribe. His quiet notoriety was widespread as the State of Alaska honored Fred with “Fred Rungee Day”.

He could play Rachmaninoff on his Alaska wilderness piano, recite Southey, and cook dinner for twenty. A skilled story teller and humorist, he could tell first-person bear attack stories and tales that few residents knew. His spontaneity transformed dinners into parties; he was fairly adept at throwing serving spoons into large bowls of mashed potatoes from across the room. He would put joy into conversation and enthusiasm into the tired but his trademark gesture was the promotion and consumption of ice cream which was always shared with friends, any time of the day, during warmish summers and brutal Alaska winters.

He may have never married but he was the father figure to so many fire fighters who got to know him. His virtual immediate family is extensive and he will be greatly missed. Fred is predeceased by his sister Elinor Rungee Smith and survived by his nephew Kent Smith, and his niece Deborah Smith and his many, many good friends in the Copper River Valley, throughout Alaska, the Lower 48 and abroad. We may have lost him but his example lives on in those of us lucky enough to learn from him. What the world needs now is for us to remember how he showed us to live: in peace and good humor.


Tom Sadowski was a crew foreman of the El Cariso Hot Shots, U.S. Forest Service. He also worked in Alaska as an Assistant Fire Management Officer of the Glennallen District for the Department of Interior. Presently he writes a regular weekly humor column called “Just Saying…” from mid-coast Maine where he now lives. Contact: sadowski at

Ron Campbell, 1942 – 2013

We recently found out that a former U.S. Forest Service district Fire Management Officer and Superintendent of the El Cariso Hotshots passed away in April. Ron Campbell for the last 13 years had been dealing with a variety of medical issues, including cancer as well as heart and liver failures. He had been living in Redding, California and was 72 years old.

Ron Campbell at El Cariso Hotshot Camp, 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Ron Campbell at El Cariso Hotshot Camp, 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I worked for Ron on El Cariso for three years. He was by far the best supervisor I ever had. He became more than that — a friend.

This news comes a couple of weeks after we found out that the El Cariso Hot Shots have been disbanded, at least until next year — two blows that feel like a punch to the gut for those who knew Ron or worked on the crew.

He started with the U.S. Forest Service in 1961 as a firefighter on the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. In 1963 he was promoted to Driver at Alpine working for Chuck Mills and later worked at Descanso. He was a smokejumper at Redding in 1964 for one summer then he worked in fire prevention and was station foreman at Japatul and Mt. Laguna on the Cleveland NF. He was Superintendent of the El Cariso Hot Shots from 1969 until 1975 when he transferred to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California as Assistant Fire Management Officer on the Yolla Bolly Ranger District. Two years later he transferred to the Sequoia as district Fire Management Officer at Kernville. In 1979 he left the USFS to work with his brother as a private contractor on slash removal and fuel modification projects.

Before I was on El Cariso I worked for one summer on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California running a chain saw on a timber stand improvement (TSI) crew, thinning young Douglas Fir stands. I went to “fire school”, got a Red Card, and worked on three small fires that summer. I decided that fighting fire was more fun than thinning trees and in 1970 got a job on El Cariso with the help of a USFS college student summer work program through my school, Mississippi State University.

Kenny Tortez and Ron Campbell
Kenny Tortez, Supt. of Del Rosa Hotshots (left) and Ron Campbell on the way to a fire with their two crews in 1971. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Ron was skeptical of me at first, since I got the job through a non-traditional method. He pushed me harder, I thought, than most of the others on the crew, but maybe everyone thought the same thing about themselves. Eventually he came around to the fact that I had chain saw experience and made me a sawyer on the crew. One of my fellow firefighters thought I was stupid for disclosing that I knew how to run a chain saw, saying it was the hardest job. I was shocked the next year when I became one of the crew foremen.

Ron was able to see things in people, tap into their strengths, and help them develop their potential. We did a great deal of training on the crew, more than most wildland firefighters did in the 1970s. He knew how to inspire people and challenged us to become students of fire.

I asked Charlie Phenix what he remembered about Ron:

I was on the El Cariso crew 1969-1970 and Ron was the Superintendent. The crew was 30 men and most were new. I remember him as bigger than life, but I was just 19. From the beginning he was very stern but fair, I never ran so many PT miles in my life. He had a bent broken finger and when he pointed at us it was kind of funny. This was only 3 years after the Loop Fire so safety was a priority. He saw things in me I didn’t know I had, and in 1970 I became a crew leader (we split crew into 2-15 man teams). For a newby it gave me the foundation of Wildland firefighting I carried for my 38 year career. I still occasionally think of him and the positive impact he had on my life.

Hal Mortier also has memories of his time on the crew:

Ron Campbell was my first supervisor in the Forest Service and a memorable one at that. He was a no-nonsense leader with very high standards and expectations on the job…yet a lot of fun and a friend off the job. Ron was a shaker and a mover as evidenced by his rapid assent through the ranks. I am certain I modeled some of my leadership style and qualities after Ron, a true pleasure to work with and for!

And from Rick Bondar:

He was a tough, smart, ballsy, son of a bitch, who scared the hell out of me my first year and whom I respected and was almost friends with my last 2-3 years on the crew. We would have followed him anywhere & DID.

At that time there was no standard training curriculum in the USFS for new firefighters. There were some films we could watch, but training standards and lesson plans were left up to the individual units or districts, at least on the Cleveland NF. The wheel was reinvented constantly when training was offered.

Rick Bondar (left) and Tom Sadowski
Rick Bondar (left) and Tom Sadowski working on the Basic 32 training program in 1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

At his direction our crew developed a four-day basic training package for new firefighters which became known as the “Basic 32-hour Package”. It consisted of an instructor’s guide, a student workbook, and a slide-tape visual aid — slides synced to narrated audio on a tape. There were no personal computers then, and we made all of our graphics using hand-drawn images, artist supplies, press-on letters, and a 35mm camera. The illustrations of the “13 Situations that Shout Watchout” were drawn by a member of the crew during that time period. This was before 5 more situations were added, making it 18 Situations.

When the training package was finished in 1972 or 1973, it required a Wollensak cassette recorder to put it on which could recognize the slide advance tone, and a 35mm slide projector; the two were linked with a special cable. Eventually the program was converted to VHS tapes and was used with the workbooks in many locations around the country for training new firefighters.

Ron Campbell and Al Kuehl
Assistant Superintendent Al Kuel (left) and Ron Campbell at Lake Henshaw in 1970. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Quite a number of firefighters from the Ron Campbell El Cariso era moved on and up into leadership roles in firefighting and other fields. I have lost track of many of them, but at the risk of leaving some out, the list includes Gary Cones, Hal Mortier, Bob Drown, Charlie Phenix, Rick Bondar, Tom Sadowski, Allen Bond, Chuck Whitlock, Steve Jakala, Mike Herth, and Roger Seewald. They all worked on the crew between 1970 and 1972. Perhaps our readers can add to this list, especially for the years 1973 through 1975 after I moved on to engines and the Laguna Hot Shots.

El Cariso Hot Shots, 1970
El Cariso Hot Shots, 1970. Ron Campbell is in the front row, second from the left, with his arms folded. (click to see a larger version)

Tom Sadowski was on El Cariso from 1969 through 1972. From his home in Maine he sent us his memories of Ron.


“Ron Campbell

A Memorial

By Tom Sadowski

In 1969 I was 18 and Ron Campbell was, well he was older. You couldn’t tell how much older because he was always standing in the sun and you had to squint to make out the features on his face. It was my first time in sunny California and Ron Campbell seemed to be California to the core. He was blond and trim and he must have been experienced or the Forest Service wouldn’t have put him in charge. He never talked about his past but the guys had him pegged as ex Army Ranger or Marine; possibly Navy SEAL. Certainly he had smokejumper experience and very likely was on call for the CIA. His main concern was professionalism. He wanted to run the best crew with no flaws, no exception.

We immediately got off on the wrong foot. I was quite late for my first day of work because I had a letter, signed Ron Campbell, which specifically stated that long hair would not be acceptable. I took the time to shave my beard, find a barber shop and get most of my hair cut off before winding my way up the mountain.

As it was the dawning of the age of the hippy, the letter was very strongly worded. The warning about hair length overshadowed any mention about what time it was I was suppose to report for work. Anyway, I sort of felt like it was the same as reporting to summer camp: it didn’t really matter what time you got there on the first day. “Oh no,” said Ron Campbell and within 10 minutes of my arrival at El Cariso he had me out on the line swinging a hook at chamise and manzanita.

I came back to camp later that afternoon smelling like black sage and bleeding from the blisters on my hands and scratches on my face. Ron Campbell called me into his office which was a tiny cabin no bigger then four by eight feet with only enough room for his desk and a coffee pot, and Al Khuel’s desk who was the assistant superintendent, and for a few file cabinets and some office chairs. Ron Campbell stood me up against one of the bookcases and looked me up and down. “I thought we wrote you a letter stating that long hair would not be acceptable”.

What did this man want? This was the time of non-conformity and rebellion. Even though I drove 2500 miles to take this job in a National Forest that didn’t seem to have any trees, I’d be damned if this guy was going to tell me how I have to look in a job where I’m shaking hands with flammable shrubs all day long.

But Ron Campbell had other plans. He wasn’t about to let me quit. He already had me figured out. He would push me until I was about to quit and then he’d give me some slack until I came around, partially, to his way of thinking. Through Dan Bender, my first foreman, he got me and everyone else singing the same song. He was a crew builder and he built the best crews with no flaws, no exception.

It may seem odd but we used to play tetherball behind the mess hall where we had set up an obstacle course for physical training. Tetherball is fondly remembered by most people as a third grade schoolyard game where two players stand opposite each other with a steel pole in between them. Connected to this pole on a hefty cord is the tetherball. The object is to wrap the cord around the pole by hitting the ball with your hands which would be easy except that your opponent tries to wrap the cord around the pole in the opposite direction. The third grade version of the game is generally harmless but players in the school yard don’t usually have a combined weight exceeding 350 pounds and something to prove.

Ron Campbell and Bill Gabbert
Ron Campbell (left) and Bill Gabbert, tether ball, 1972. Photo by Tom Sadowski.

That summer a lot of the guys were nursing long scabs on their forearms not so much from tangling with the chaparral but as a result of rope burns from the tetherball. Hot Shot Tetherball games got so intense we had to impose the one rule that we also used when playing commando volleyball: No Knives.

Ron Campbell, as the cool headed superintendent who had an air about him indicating he was always in charge, had no time for these games.  (Editor’s note: there were exceptions as seen in the photo) Occasionally he would leave his office and just check in on us to make sure we weren’t killing each other or doing something so dangerous that he might have to console our parents. Ron was not big on consoling anyone as there should never be a need if everyone follows the rules. He never said it directly but it was very clear to us that if he ever did have to console our parents because something stupid we did caused our demise, he would make it a point to come to the hospital or wake us from the dead if need be and personally throttle us.

So on a particularly hot afternoon after defeating any challengers at the tetherball pole, I looked up to see Ron Campbell watching. We may have goaded him a bit because he never played but he came over to the pole and with the sun to his back he looked at me and said something like “Let’s see what you’ve got”.

Game on. We volleyed a bit to test each other and then got serious. Ron Campbell got in a few good hits and then I countered. I remember the ball came to me and I just happened to be in perfect position to hit it right in the sweet spot with all my might. The yellow sphere rocketed toward Ron Campbell who was no more than six feet away and hit him squarely in the face with a terrible crushing sound. It may have broken his nose but to my astonishment, Ron Campbell didn’t flinch. The ball ricocheted past my head as I stood there dumbfounded. That was it. As soon as it got back to him, he deftly accelerated it by me and above my reach until seconds later, he won the game.

I stayed with the crew for four seasons largely because of Ron Campbell. He was one of those influential figures who I think of often. Our beliefs may not have been on the same plane but we were united in purpose when it came to getting the job done. I moved on to fill a position as the assistant fire management officer at the Glennallen District in Alaska for the Department of Interior. I dealt with many fire crews and a lot of trying situations but thanks to Ron Campbell, to this day, I never flinch whenever I get hit in the face. OK, I will never be as stony as he was but I give it a go. Thank you, Ron Campbell.”

Video of the original 13 Situations That Shout “Watch Out” took our images of the original 13 Situations that Shout “Watch Out” and embedded them into a one-minute video. It’s very cool, and something I would never have thought of doing.

Here is more information about the development of these images.

The El Cariso Hot Shots (Cleveland National Forest in southern California), from about 1972-1973, developed the first curriculum for basic wildland firefighter training. It was then referred to informally as the “basic 32-hour course”, and eventually evolved into S-130/190. Originally it was a slide-tape program with an integrated instructor’s guide, tests, and a student workbook, and was later converted to VHS video tape. The course included sections on the 13 Situations That Shout “Watch Out” and the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders. I was on the crew from 1970-1972.

A black and white version of the 13 Situations graphics, each on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, was available to us before we developed the training package. They were sent to us through USFS channels–I don’t know who the artist was. We had an artist on the crew who developed from scratch a lot of the graphics in the basic 32-hour slide-tape program, but all he and we did regarding the 13 Situations graphics was to enhance them a bit and colorize them. Then Tom Sadowski photographed them and the other graphics for the program and made slides. Tom and I and others also took the rest of the photographs that were in the basic 32-hour course.

I have copies of some of the slides from that slide-tape program, and a year ago I had about 700 old slides and prints digitized, and among them were the 13 Situation images.

The original and the enhanced images were developed by the U. S. Forest Service. They are in the public domain, therefore they may be used for training purposes. If you do use them, we would appreciate your letting us know, as Ramblings did.

Here are some photos of the basic 32-hour program being devleoped.

Rick Bondar and Tom Sadowski working on the basic 32-hour wildland firefighter training package, 1972
Rick Bondar and Tom Sadowski working on the basic 32-hour wildland firefighter training package, 1972

Making professional-quality graphics in 1972 was much more time-consuming than it is today. Sometimes we used peel-and-stick letters and hand-drawn art. It is very difficult to photograph graphics, getting everything square and perpendicular to the lens to prevent distortion. Once it was photographed, that was it. There was no photo editing, or straightening, cropping, or changing the lighting or correcting the spelling.

Tom Sadowski working on the basic 32-hour wildland firefighter training package, 1972
Tom Sadowski working on the basic 32-hour wildland firefighter training package, 1972

National Geographic cover story about wildland fire

The July issue of National Geographic, which will be mailed on June 16-17 to subscribers, will have a major cover story about wildland fire. They are planning a 28-page spread with many photos of wildland fire from around the country. The title of the story is “The Fire Season”, written by Neil Shea and Photographer Mark Thiessen.

According to Frank Carroll, the Planning and Public Affairs Staff Officer for the Black Hills National Forest who provided this information, it will star firefighters from across the country. We know that they shot some photos last summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and also at the fire in California that started east of Malibu, burned to the west and stopped where many fires are stopped, at the Pacific Ocean.

National Geographic does photo stories on wildland fire about every 10 years, but this one is supposed to be one of the best in a long time.

I think it was in 1972 that Tom Sadowski and I sent some of our fire photos and a proposal to National Geographic for something similar. We received a very nice declination letter from someone there named, and I have not forgotten this, “Smokey”. Smokey explained that they liked our photos, but that they had done a wildland fire story 3-4 years before and it was too soon to do another one.


UPDATE July 21, 2011:

We received an update on this today from Frank Carroll:

Mark Thiessen won first place in the international Pictures Of the Year International (POYi) Awards in the magazine division, “Issue Reporting Picture Story,” for National Geographic’s “Under Fire” that you mentioned in this 2009 piece. It turned out better than we described it in your story!