Ready for action: Work for Warriors program makes firefighters out of veterans (PHOTO GALLERY)
When Plumas National Forest firefighter David Dube left the armed forces, he found himself lost and missing the structure he had while working in the Navy’s construction battallion.
“I was really lost,” Dube said. “This saved me.”
Dube is one of many veterans who say they owe their saving graces to the firefighting profession. And now he and others want to give back, by helping other veterans like them get hired on for this year’s fire season through the Work for Warriors program.
Aside from being sympathetic to out-of-work veterans, the program benefits from the government worker classification, which allows them to be hired within one pay period following completion of the 40-hour basic firefighting course.
On Wednesday, 18 of those prospective firefighters traveled to the White Cloud Fire Station off Highway 20 east of Nevada City to take part in a full day of field exercises in the Tahoe National Forest.
‘Right up my alley’
The veterans were split into three groups focused on techniques for using chainsaws, hand tools, hoses, pumps and firing devices, as well as building fire line and deploying fire shelters.
One exercise involved a hike which ended in a run up “Heart Attack Hill,” before having to deploy their fire shelters.
Forest service firefighter Tonya Blasingame was one of the field training day organizers and described the groups as they came up Heart Attack Hill.
“They were burned out for sure and there were some ladies in there, too,” Blasingame said. “The girls did really well, which goes to show that size doesn’t matter, and they were keeping up with the other folks. One ended up losing their shelter and had to get into the same shelter with a partner.
“They were pretty fizzled out by the time they got there.”
Blasingame, also a veteran, is now celebrating her 22nd year as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter.
“It’s a good thing,” Blasingame said of the Work for Warriors program. “Because I was a veteran for five years, (firefighting) was just right up my alley.”
‘Have to work hard for it’
Other veteran firefighters cited the camaraderie of being a forest service firefighter as an added benefit.
“It kind of fills the void, where you get to hang out with the crew,” Dube said.
According to Blasingame, all except one Work for Warriors program participant was hired on after last year’s training.
This year the program produced a lot of interest for the hotshot crews, while a small percentage of participants were unable to complete the very physical nature of wildland firefighter training.
“Others after this day realized that they need to bump up their physical training,” Blasingame said. “They realized that if they want this, they have to work hard for it.”
To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 530-477-4230.
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