By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess, Joint Forces Headquarters, Washington National Guard
CAMP MURRAY, Wash. -- Nearly 150 Washington National Guardsmen have been activated to support wildland firefighting efforts in the state of Washington.
Two hand crews from the Washington Army National Guard’s 176th Engineer Company, headquartered in Snohomish; three hand crews from the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing, headquartered at Fairchild Air Force Base; and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Washington Army National Guard’s 96th Aviation Troop Command, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will work together to attack smaller wildfires that are popping up on the east side of the state.
About 50 members of the 176th mustered Aug. 1 for state active duty. They were briefed on pay issues and employee rights and underwent a medical screening.
This year’s firefighting effort will be different from previous years. Very large fires in California have taken its toll on resources in surrounding states, leaving Washington with few assets to fight local fires. The engineers from the 176th will be used as initial attack -- meaning that in some areas they will be the first to arrive at an incident and take all the actions needed to prevent the fire from doing further damage.
“It’s a hard job and it’s a dangerous job. And you guys should know that nobody takes that lightly,” Army Brig. Gen. Wallace Turner, commander of the Washington Army National Guard, said to a room full of Guardsmen.
Not a Normal Day
On any normal day, Army Spc. Derek Price is a fitness instructor. Today, he is gathering all the necessary equipment he needs to fight wildfires.
Price, a supply specialist with the 176th, said that he’s looking forward to taking part in the initial attack this year. Last year, the Washington Department of Natural Resources employed Price’s unit for mop-up and fuel reduction operations. Mop-up teams make a fire safe after it has been controlled. Fuel reduction teams clear combustible material from the forest floor to reduce the likelihood of it catching fire.
“I want to get a little bit out of my comfort zone; I’m kind of a risk taker sometimes,” Price said, noting that he’s undergone intensive training to ensure his safety.
Despite the hard work and long days that lay ahead of him and his team, Price says that this is exactly what he signed up for.
“Anything I can do to help save people’s property and lives is a very rewarding feeling,” he said. “As long as I know I do my best and make sure everybody is safe, then I can go home happy.”