Thomas Welle

Returning veterans find meaning and mission in mitigating wildfire risks

Blog Post created by Thomas Welle on Sep 25, 2015

The new generation of veterans are finding meaningful employment and a renewed sense of mission working to reduce the wildfire risk in South Dakota.

Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City, SD Fire Department and Jerry Derr of Meade County, SD employ recently discharged vets on a mitigation crew providing them an opportunity to utilize skills learned in the military on a new mission.

Veterans come to an employer with a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and experience working in a team but often find difficulty translating that to a fulfilling sense of accomplishment in the private sector.  Rapid City’s mitigation crew is helping them do just that.

Rapid City Fire is actively engaged in working with homeowners in NFPA’s Firewise program but found that there are large areas that border the City under private and other government ownership that needed serious fuel reduction.  In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management's, ( BLM) Wildfire Community Assistance Program, vets were hired as crew and the City put up $250K in equipment so that those areas could be worked. RCFD mit crew

The crew works on parcels from 10 to 100 acres to reduce the threats adjacent to neighborhoods creating shaded fuel breaks of 300-400 feet.   This provides a vital link in the overall strategy of reducing the risk to neighborhoods and communities at very little cost to the jurisdiction, but that is only part of the story.

Besides learning fire mitigation and forestry knowledge and skills, these vets are feeling a sense of community, of doing something important.  At the same time, most are also in college or tech schools.  Several have moved on to become firefighters, including Dave Ferrier, a former Marine, who joined the Wyoming Hotshots this May and was active on the fires in the Pacific NW this summer. See them in action here.

“I have a love for my community and a love for veterans and this program brings that together”, says Weaver.  “They help us, and we help them, it’s a win-win”.

The veterans that move through the Rapid City program become part of Weaver’s extended family, keeping in contact with him as they progress and grow.  “I get just as much out of this program as they do”, said Weaver.  “I grow with them”.

Tim will be presenting his program with co-speaker Jerry, “Heroes in the Woods”, at NFPA’s Backyards and Beyond Conference in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 from 2:15-3:15.  If you plan on attending, don’t miss this presentation!  See you there!

(photo credit: Rapid City Fire Department)

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