Keeping Cook County Safe - A Conversation with a U.S. Forest Service CrewJun 09, 2021 11:48PM ● By Editor
US Forest Service employees: Rory, on the left, has 20 years of experience. Shane, pictured on the right, has 17 years of experience. Photo by Boreal Community Media.
Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - June 10, 2021
We have all seen those traveling fire crews around the County in the summer, many of us wondering where they are from and what their job all entails. Boreal Community Media was fortunate enough to talk with Rory Anderton, a U.S Forest Service Crew Supervisor at the end of his shift on Wednesday afternoon.
Rory has a total of 10 crew members, which is called a Wildland Fire Module, with all different levels of experience. The least experienced on his crew is 3 years, and the top level (himself) has 20 years of experience. Rory calls Idaho home. He has been here in Cook County for the past six days. He said that assignments are generally for 14 days. With travel on each end being away from home can go up to 19 days.
When asked about his background and training, Rory said that he went to basic fire school in 2002 in Idaho. Every year, all crew members must pass a WCT, which stands for a Work Capacity Test. They must also attend classes throughout the year. Many local tech colleges have fire schools. If a person gets hired on and has not had that training, the Forest Service will send them through it, although most hires have already completed the educational requirements.
There are opportunities to advance in their fire fighting careers. All crew members start off at Firefighter 2, then move up to Firefighter 1, then crew boss, then continue up the ladder if they wish to grow in their career. Different facets within the Forest Service can be on fuels (prescribed burns) and prevention (education on preventing wildfires)
Rory’s busy season starts in April. Traveling starts around the end of May and continues through November. He works end seasons as well, doing prescribed burns back in his home state of Idaho.
After that, he finally gets about 3-4 months off to spend time with his wife and two young daughters. He said that although it’s stressful for his family when he is away, they accept it and are proud of him and what he does.
Rory stated that anyone who spends enough time in this job has close calls, but that they learn from those situations. “We call them slides, and we utilize them to be better at the job and not be in that situation again”. He summed it up by saying “It happens and you learn from it”.
When asked about what motivated him to choose such a grueling career, he quickly replied, “I grew up loving being in the outdoors. When I started, it was a really hard career to get into. I tried for two years and finally got hired. Once I did, I was hooked”.
A typical daily schedule for Rory and his crew consists of the following routine:
Physical fitness: The crew is allowed one hour to work out (hike, run, or work out)
Briefing with whole crew: Discuss the weather for day and projects that need to be done
Discuss current fire warnings.
Go out and do project work
Be available for initial attacks. If a fire breaks out, they must leave the project and go put out fires. They are given direction from dispatch where to go. Sometimes this takes 2 days, whereas out west they can be out for a full 14 days putting out fires.
Rory’s advice to anyone considering a career with the Forest Service: A good way to get hired on is to take an EMT course, find a rookie school (basic fire school), apply through USA jobs online, and be patient. He said that the process is really spread out. A person may apply in November for a job and not get hired until April.
“Look long term, be patient, and call”, said Rory. He shared that he usually hires the guys who call a lot or stop by to visit, as it shows that they have a genuine interest in being hired.
The final question asked was how the crews are doing with all of Cook County’s black flies that have been out in full force these past two weeks. Rory laughed and replied that each place has its own special thing that bites or pokes at you. In this case, they are using bug spray, and as always, doing their best.