Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, three specially trained firefighters from the Northwest Fire District’s Wildland Division will offer recovery services along the east coast, beginning in New Jersey.
Greg Smith, Superintendent of the District’s Ironwood Hotshots crew, along with Adam Mackey and Jeremy Shiba, both squad bosses with the Hotshots, have teamed up with 17 members from the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
Smith, Mackey, and Shiba, who departed the morning of Nov. 4, were selected to aid east coast crews based on their very unique skill set as sawyers.
As sawyers, the trio is nationally certified and has a high-level of expertise in operating chainsaws and evaluating tree collapse zones to determine how to best engineer a clearing of brush and trees during wildland fires. Given the storm’s consequences in the east coast states, these skills are expected to come in quite valuable, though additional tasks will also be performed.
“As part of that crew, the guys will perform a multitude of functions,” said Chief Stu Roddefer of Northwest Fire District. “When we respond to hurricanes, and we frequently do, we use our guys for a very skilled manpower that is relevant to reestablishing infrastructure, clearing roads, trees, and debris safely, but these guys will also be used as a labor force, and could be carrying out simpler tasks as well.”
Upon arrival, the crew had more than just the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to worry about, as heavy snowfall was reported along the East Coast, including Atlantic City and Trenton, N.J., Philadelphia, New York City, and Hartford, Conn.
Up to three inches of snow was reported on the ground in those areas.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told area reporters, “We’re doing what we need to do to prepare for this, just like we did for Hurricane Sandy. We’re prepared.”
The storm resulted in 1,500 cancelled flights, and no doubt caused further challenges to the Northwest Fire crews in their cleanup efforts.
“I can imagine what they are going through over there,” said Roddefer. “They are being impacted by a storm that is winter-like, and it’s times like this where the support of our residents of our fantastic training is tremendous.”
The Northwest Fire crew will stay on the east coast, moving between cities and states as needed for a two-week period. To date, the Hotshot Crew has been deployed for a total of 155 days over a seven-month period this year.
Though the time away from home and family is surely difficult to muster, Roddefer says his crew is proud of their work.
“We think it’s fantastic to be able to participate in things like this,” he said. “A lot of what these guys do is not seen or heard of by the general public. The mission is unfortunate, but there is a lot of satisfaction in the work. It means a lot to these guys, and it’s very heartfelt.”