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Colorado Firecamp - wildland firefighter training

About Us

Our Motivation

Heroic Leadership

Annual Operating Plan, 2006-07

How Firecamp Got Started

Firecamp-RMCG Memorandum of Understanding, approved November, 2003

Revision to 1994 NWCG Training Memo, adopted September, 2003

Early Story of Colorado Firecamp
(written in the Spring of 2004)

prevention leads to mitigation

Colorado Firecamp began, as many adventures do, with a simple conversation. The two people involved were a U.S. Forest Service public information officer and a volunteer firefighter. It was mid-July of 2002, during Colorado's worst wildfire season.

Ann Ewing wears many hats - PIO among them - at the Salida Ranger District office. Kent Maxwell serves as a captain with the Chaffee County Fire Protection District.

Kent Maxwell—during a 2004 'staff ride' with 3 of his rookie volunteer firefighters to a tenth-acre, lightning strike fire on the ridge above Maysville.

Kent had stopped by to pick up some prevention posters (one had the tagline: “Think you can't go camping without a campfire...”) to distribute around the Poncha Springs station #4 response area.

Ann mentioned that people were generally complying with the fire bans on public lands - thanks in part to the media attention given to the Hayman, Iron Mountain and Missionary Ridge fires. The ranger district had not issued any fire violations over the 4th of July weekend. The fire district had similiar results from the engine crews working severity patrols.

Smoke has a way of getting people's attention. Plenty of smoke had drifted into the valley, with plumes visible from fires 50 miles away viewed as all too close to home. By this time in the fire season, landowners - who had ignored years of Firewise advice - were scared enough to start clearing some defensible space around their houses and summer cabins.

Kent had heard from several people about the difficulty of getting rid of the slash being generated. Folks couldn't burn what they had cut because of the fire bans. Hauling it off was difficult. Burying it in the landfill didn't make sense. There was just so much slash.

Ann told Kent, “The person you really should talk with is Paul.”

mitigation leads to training

Paul Janzen is the district forester serving Chaffee and Lake counties for the Colorado State Forest Service. Paul is the ‘idea man’ behind several of Kent's efforts.

The CSFS office in Salida owns a Vermeer wood chipper that can be towed behind a pick-up truck and handle logs up to 12 inches diameter. It works well for smaller thinning projects but is easily out-sized by agressive mitigation. A chipper that size is especially un-suited to the massive piles that accumulate before thought is given to slash disposal.

Paul said a ‘tub grinder’ was the machine really needed for the job.

Tub grinder demo

Kent had no idea just what a grinder was, tub or otherwise. But before long, it became an obsession. Hundreds of e-mails followed, and four different Vermeer and Morbark grinders came to the county that fall.

During the summer of 2003, the fire district was awarded a $20,000 National Fire Plan Community Assistance grant for a 30-day tub grinder project. A second grant followed in 2004 for $29,700. In addition, the district signed a 5-year cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Land Management for continued work in ‘bio-mass utilization.’

Morbark 1300 tub grinder

Meanwhile, as summer turned to fall of 2002, Paul and Kent kept talking. Mostly it was the incessant talk of tub grinders - that is, whenever they could talk, because Paul was often away fighting the big wildfires in the state and region.

Paul serves as a safety officer on a type 2 incident management team. Gradually, the discussions shifted to the shortage of trained firefighters ‘ready, willing and able’ to fight all these fires. The Pueblo fire zone dispatch (which handled the Hayman and Iron Mountain fires) had over 1,500 unfilled resource requests from incidents, because the properly trained and qualified people were not available.

Kent (left) and Paul Janzen on an August, 2004 field trip to check fire mitigation in the Maysville/North Fork area with Sam Schroeder (photographer.)

Soon, Kent was asking if a new firefighter school could be started in the county. How hard could it be?

Paul told Kent, “The person you really should talk with is Wendy.”

training leads to Wendy

Wendy Fischer coordinates the Colorado Wildfire Academy and Great Plains Wildfire College. Her name is synonymous with wildfire training in the state. She also happens to be about the nicest, most approachable person. Invariably, as Kent talked to pretty much whomever would listen to this idea of a new school, the first response was, “Well, have you talked to Wendy?”

Well, talk we did. Eventually it all led to the formation of Colorado Firecamp and a long process to sign a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the Rocky Mountain Coordinating Group. And, from there it continues to actually training firefighters.

What comes next? We're not exactly sure.

Credit where Credit is Due
other people who helped us get started

  • Dick and Enid Bauer — Kent's parents own the Ponderosa Lodge. Without their support and willingness to provide a home for Colorado Firecamp, none of this would be possible.

  • Pete DeChant and Joel Kemm—The former Salida Fire Chief and USFS Mountain Zone FMO, respectively. Both gave many months of advice and encouragement while the MOU process dragged on.

  • Charlie Medina and Sam Schroeder —Charlie is the USFS Salida District Ranger, and Sam (whose title we never quite figured out) is the guy that gets things done for the district. Their support and guidance has been invaluable.

  • Ed Skerjanic—FMO for the BLM Royal Gorge field office. Ed's enthusiastic response to an early e-mail convinced us that we had an idea that could work.

  • Tracy Beaudin and Quinn MacLeod — The former and current Pueblo Zone training reps. Like most people who do this stuff, Tracy and Quinn have taken on training as a collateral duty. Still, they found time to help us out, too.

  • Andy Parker — BLM Assistant FMO for Colorado. Andy objected to the Rocky Mountain Area signing the MOU for Colorado Firecamp, on grounds that when training isn't done right, it jeopardizes firefighter safety. While we disagreed about the MOU, his influence is felt in our passion for firefighter safety.

  • Kim Bang—Rocky Mountain Area training representative. The NWCG training system is not perfect. Kim's common sense approach helps resolve issues where the pieces don't quite fit.

  • Jim Strain —FMO for the state of South Dakota and former Region 2 training chair. Jim was the shepherd who got the MOU through the process. His feedback on possible names is why we chose ‘Colorado Firecamp’ as the name of this school.


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