BLM all-female fire camp in Oregon

This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp

BLM's all-female fire camp
Students at the BLM’s all-female fire camp in Oregon. Screenshot from the BLM video below.

From the Bureau of Land Management:

Students came from all over the country for this year’s BLM’s all-female wildfire camp in eastern Oregon.

For the class final, the all-female crew of wildfire students dug fire line, rolled hose, and burned slash piles in the eastern Oregon snow.

The live burn exercise was the climax of the second annual Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp, a BLM recruitment and retention tool that organizers hope will add diversity to the applicant pool for wildfire jobs.

The boot camp is really a paid training opportunity, part classroom and part field work, for women to become certified for federal fire jobs, an industry long dominated by men.

“I think we’re acknowledging we need to add diversity to our workforce,” said Jeff Fedrizzi, the top BLM fire official for Oregon and Washington, “And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

Twenty women attended last year and more than half of that first class ended up getting a job in firefighting, said Cassandra Andrews-Fleckenstein, the BLM program manager for the camp. This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp, once again coming from across the country. Students slept outside in 10-degree weather, used portable toilets, and wore the classic wildland firefighter uniform of yellow shirt and green pants, just like any other fire camp.

Kathleen Mascarenas, who is studying forestry and fire science at Colorado State University, said she came to the Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp to get her foot in the door for a future job.

“I really just wanted to get a hands-on experience,” said Mascarenas, as a controlled burn crackled behind her last month. “I thought it would be a great experience to get started and meet some of the women that I would be hopefully working with in the future,” she said.

One of the attendees from Oregon, Kelli Creekmore, said she recently got her emergency medical technician license and is hoping to get a job providing first aid to wildland firefighters.

In addition to the typical fire coursework, students also received special presentations, for example, what it is like to be pregnant during a wildfire pack test, and how to successfully apply via USAJobs.gov.

Since many of the camp attendees are coming in with advanced education and other valuable prerequisites, it is imperative that they become fluent in the federal hiring process, said camp manager Andrews-Fleckenstein.

“They are frustrated because they don’t really know how to get into these fire jobs,” said Andrews-Fleckenstein, listing the main gripe she heard from students at the camp. “I’m finding that this camp is kind of a bridge for them.”

Bob Narus, the fire manager for the BLM’s Vale District, an area that spans more than 5 million acres in eastern Oregon, said simply making more applicants aware that the BLM is an option for firefighting jobs is important.

“I think there’s value in having these women in wildfire camps, so more people can become aware that, ‘Hey, I can go fight fire with the BLM also, not just the Forest Service,’” said Narus.

While camp attendees are compensated for their time, they are not reimbursed for their travel to and from rural eastern Oregon. Last year, one student flew round-trip from Chicago between university midterms to attend the boot camp, said Andrews-Fleckenstein, noting the clear and unique value of the all-female BLM fire camp.

“I think if we had more of them across the country, or offered a couple more, you might get a lot of people coming into it,” she said.


— by Toshio Suzuki, tsuzuki@blm.gov

From Big Sky to The Last Frontier, 8 Women Fight Their First Wildland Fire

BLM women fire crew

Story and photos by Samantha Storms, Public Information Officer, Alaska Fire Service.

With more than 200 fires burning in mid-July in Alaska, the 2019 BLM Women’s Fire Crew received their first ever wildland fire assignment.
Traveling by plane, helicopter and boat, this eight woman crew headed to the Hadweenzic River Fire in the Upper Yukon of eastern Alaska with eager smiles.

BLM Wyoming and the Montana Conservation Corps, or MCC, started this crew in 2016, training women to be wildland firefighters. This program is a wonderful opportunity to introduce these young women to the world of wildland firefighting.

Looking back at the 2018 season, 11 of 12 crew members are still working in wildland fire jobs and the other started her career working for MCC. Through this partnership, all crew members are qualified chainsaw operators and when they are not on the fireline, they are working with BLM Wyoming on public lands restoration projects.

BLM 2019 Women's Fire Crew heads to Hadweenzic River Fire

With more than 200 fires burning in mid-July in Alaska, the 2019 BLM Women’s Fire Crew received their first ever wildland fire assignment.Traveling by plane, helicopter and boat, this eight woman crew headed to the #HadweenzicRiverFire in the Upper Yukon of eastern Alaska with eager smiles.Bureau of Land Management – Wyoming and the Montana Conservation Corps, or MCC, started this crew in 2016, training women to be wildland firefighters. This program is a wonderful opportunity to introduce these young women to the world of wildland firefighting.Thank you for helping fight fires in The Last Frontier! Read more: bit.ly/2JP677i #WomeninFire*****Music CreditAcoustic/Folk Instrumental by Hyde – Free Instrumentals https://soundcloud.com/davidhydemusicCreative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/YKdXVnaHfo8

Posted by BLM Alaska Fire Service on Saturday, July 20, 2019

More details about each of the eight firefighters on the 2019 crew.

Below is a video featuring the 2017 BLM Women’s Fire crew at the Orleans Complex of fires on the Six Rivers National Forest in California. Video by Eric Coulter, BLM.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick Freimuth. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Australia/United States joint panel discussion about a woman’s career in fire

Simultaneously live streamed from both Sydney and Albuquerque

One of the more interesting events at the International Association of Wildland Fire’s (IAWF) Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference this week was that some speakers were being live streamed from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sydney, Australia; and Marseille, France. At times presenters were contributing to one event simultaneously from two continents.

An example was the joint panel discussion live streamed from Albuquerque and Sydney Wednesday afternoon. Each site had three or four panelists discussing A Life and a Career in Fire, from a woman’s viewpoint.

women in wildland fire panel discussion
The stream from Sydney. New South Wales Rural Fire Service photo.
women in wildland fire panel discussion
The stream from Albuquerque. Bill Gabbert Photo.

women in wildland fire panel discussion

The panelists talked about how a woman’s career in a male-dominated work force can be different from a man’s, the challenges they faced, and how they reacted or dealt with the issues.

One notable comment was from Deanne Shulman, the first female smokejumper, now retired. She referred to Michelle Obama’s method for handling down in the dirt political campaigning, “When they go low, we go high”. Ms. Shulman said her tactic when harassed by males was somewhat different, “When they go low, I go lower.” Then she laughed.

The IAWF deserves a commendation for working out the logistics, electronics, and timing on both continents. In a previous life one of my duties was to arrange two-hour conference calls with participants in the US, Europe, and Australia. Choosing a time often meant some participants had to call in early in the morning or late at night.

Not all wildland firefighting gear works well for women

Above: The Mt. Taylor Hotshots on the Shep Canyon Fire in South Dakota, 2011.

(Originally published December 27, 2017)

An article in the Los Angeles Times by Melissa Etehad describes how wildland firefighting gear designed for men can be a problem for female firefighters.

Below are some excerpts:


“Kelley Whitelens hiked a steep hill toward the backyard of a home on Coyote Road in Santa Barbara, one hand wiping the sweat from her face, the other pulling up her sagging pants.

“Whitelens is the only female firefighter in a 19-person team from South Dakota fighting the fierce Thomas fire…

[…]

“For the last six months, Hannah Key, a firefighter with the Sierra National Forest and a fire captain on the Thomas fire, has gathered hundreds of surveys from female firefighters across the nation about their body measurements, firefighter gear and improvements they hope to see.

“Her efforts stemmed from an email she sent during the Cascade fire in the spring of 2016 complaining about the lack of fire gear made for women. “Within the hour, I had three people from the company on the phone with me telling me that they’d like to make equipment for women,” Key said.

“Since then, Key has been gathering testimonials from female firefighters in California, Oregon, Texas, Florida and other states, gauging their needs and issues they’ve encountered in the field.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Key said. “There’s a market for this.”

A trailblazing firefighter provides training for women

Above: the USFS engine crew at Descanso, California in 1990. In the front row, L to R., Bequi Livingston, Maureen, Chris Anderson, Bill Gabbert.

Today I ran across an article that initially got my attention because it mentioned a firefighter I worked with who had an unusual name: Bequi Livingston. I worked with Bequi in 1990 on the U.S. Forest Service engine crew at Descanso, California. Already having a great deal of experience, she came to that position through the apprenticeship program, a way to get her permanent appointment, and it was obvious that she was destined for something greater.

The article below, reprinted with permission, was written by Zöe Rom for the December 20, 2017 edition of REI Co-op Journal.


Bequi Livingston is an old-school badass. She spent her career fighting fires alongside the most respected crews in the West. Today, she’s dedicated to training more women in backcountry firefighting.

She began working with the U.S. Forest Service in 1979 in New Mexico’s Smokey Bear Ranger District. After serving on the Young Adult Conservation Corps, she became a seasonal firefighter, eventually working her way up through fire engines, helitack crews, hotshot crews, fire prevention and fire lookout. Livingston went on to become an assistant fire management officer and later, a prescribed fire operations specialist. She was one of the first women to ever serve on the Sandia Helitack crew, and one of the first two women to ever serve on the prestigious Smokey Bear Hotshot Crew. In 2008, Livingston earned the Paul Gleason Award for her service in the wildland firefighting community.

After retiring, she started the Women In Wildland Fire Boot Camp in 2004, a program still running today in the USFS Southwestern Region (and modeled by other agencies throughout the West) to recruit and train women for success as backcountry firefighters.

She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, competes with the New Mexico Track Club and recently qualified for the National Senior Olympic Games.

Did you dream of being a backcountry firefighter when you were a little girl?

I was lucky to spend all my childhood summers at a remote family cabin in New Mexico where I learned to love nature and the woods. I loved to hike and fish and just spend time in nature. I was also an elite athlete and loved outdoor physical activities. When I was a senior in high school (in El Paso, Texas), I knew that I wanted to be a firefighter but only knew about the city structural firefighters and didn’t even know that wildland firefighters existed.

The vice principal at school would do everything to talk me out of it, saying you are too smallyou’re a woman in a men’s profession and it’s too dangerous. He even lent me library books about catastrophic firefighting events. It only fueled my interest more. Then I went to college on an athletic scholarship, and my boyfriend worked as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. That’s the first I even knew about the job. That really sparked my interest because he loved it so much.

What is the job actually like? Can you describe a typical day (if such a thing exists)?

Although wildland firefighting has changed a lot, one typical day on a large fire with a crew would be like this: Wake up about 4am to get dressed and eat chow before attending briefing for the day’s assignment. Depending on the assignment that day for your crew, you will be transported (bus, van, helicopter or walking) to your division with specific instructions for your crew’s 12-hour shift. Duties vary according to the fire’s progression and objectives and, of course, safety. You are typically working with a variety of other fire crews and resources which are very specific and tactical in nature. Most often, you will take a short lunch break at some point and continue working, depending on the current situation as it continually changes. If all goes well during the work shift, you will typically leave the fireline in order to complete your shift by 6pm. Then, you head back to fire camp, eat dinner, shower if showers are available, have a little down time and bed down in your crew tents. But it all depends, and it can all change in the blink of an eye.

What’s it like being a woman in this male-dominated field?

Continue reading “A trailblazing firefighter provides training for women”