Thursday, August 29, 2013

Local Forest Ranger Back From Utah Firefighting

PALMDALE, FL – Florida Forest Service Forest Ranger Tom Hopkins returns home after battling a wildfire in the State of Utah and serving eighteen days as a Squad Boss on a twenty-person wildland firefighting hand-crew.

Recent rainfall has allowed the State of Florida to provide aid to other states in need. Ranger Hopkins works at the Florida Forest Service Palmdale Site located near US27 and SR 29.

He is a State Wildland Firefighter fighting wildfires in Glades County and in the State of Florida usually driving a firefighting bulldozer with plow.

The Florida Forest Service established a hand-crew consisting of 20 nationally qualified wildland firefighters who served as the infantry of wildland fire forces.

Working side by side, the crew’s main responsibility was to construct a “fireline” – a strip of land cleared of flammable materials and dug down to mineral soil – around the State Wildfire to control it and mop up after the fire.

“After the brisk hike up the mountain, the real action unfolded,” Forest Ranger Hopkins explains. “Most days we were working in tandem with airtankers and helicopters to help construct containment lines.” Retardant and water drops can help reinforce firelines. While retardants do not stop advancing fire, they slow a fire's progress allowing handcrews to do their job.

Forest Ranger Hopkins handcrew's day started at sunrise by sharpening their suppression hand tools. “Every morning during briefing we would obtain our assignment for the day,” Forest Ranger Hopkins explains. “Then we would be transported to the base of the mountain, unload our firefighting gear weighing 35 pounds and hike several miles to the wildfire. Once we got on scene, we would work for 12 hours digging firelines in brush. Finally, we would hike back and return to camp.”

“This was my first experience being Squad Boss of a handcrew,” stated Hopkins. Depending on their qualifications and skill levels, a twenty person handcrew may be divided into squads with 5 firefighters each. “As a Squad Boss, I reminded the crew to always keep an eye on the fire, and their mind on safety. I wanted each and every one of my crew members returning home to Florida with me.”

Hopkins said, “I was overwhelmed with the outpour of appreciation from the community. Several people held signs as we drove through town saying THANK YOU FIREFIGHTERS. When the need arises, I will go out on another wildfire assignment again.”

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