Delaware firefighters travel to Northern Rockies to battle blazes

James Charney, of Felton (right), gives a squad briefing to Delaware wildfire crew members (from left) Mark Kammer, of Magnolia, Robert Robles, of Dover, Robert Terry, of Magnolia and Rocco Hladney, of Middletown. Submitted photos

SMYRNA — The best part of it all for Delaware Forest Service Fire Program Director Kyle Hoyd is not when he dispatches firefighters from Delaware to distant regions across the country to battles blazes, but rather, when they come home.

That’s when he knows his group has returned safely and is back with their families and — as an added benefit — they usually bring home some positive reviews for the work they have accomplished.

On Sunday, the Delaware Forest Service sent a crew of 20 wildland firefighters to the Northern Rockies to help battle wildfires in the west as the National Fire Preparedness Level has reached the maximum of 5 on a 5-point scale.

“They want to show what Delaware can do,” Mr. Hoyd said, of the First State firefighters. “We teach firefighting, but we can’t teach pride. To carry Delaware’s name out west and show everybody what they can do really means something to all of our firefighters.”

A National Preparedness Level of 5 means that “national mobilization is heavily committed… active geographic areas must take emergency measures to sustain incident operations… and potential for emerging significant wildland fires is high.”

With large fires burning in Califormia, Oregon and other western states, skilled firefighting resources are in high demand.

Nationally, 134 active incidents are currently burning 1.56 million acres across the country. A total of 587 wildfire crews and 28,994 personnel — including Delaware — were committed to firefighting operations as of August 5.

The team of First Stater’s flew from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Missoula, Montana, on Sunday, to battle the fires in the Northern Rockies.

“They actually have several hundred wildfires actively burning in the Northern Rockies right now,” Mr. Hoyd said. “It’s not quite the state of California with the huge large incidents. The wildfires they will be fighting go from a few acres up to a few hundred acres.

“This time of year, they all experience it out west. It’s getting to that point in August where all of the wildfires are starting to grow.”

Dover resident Michael Valenti, the administrator of Delaware’s Forestry Program, is serving as the crew boss for the team of recently dispatched firefighters.

The wildfire crew from Delaware consists of Kent County residents: Jeff Wilson, from Clayton; Mr. Valenti and Robert Robles, from Dover; Eddie Boyer, from Ellendale; James Charney and Mike Krumrine, from Felton; Mark Kammer, Christian Mihok and Robert Terry, from Magnolia; Blake Moore, from Milford and Tyler Thompson, from Smyrna.

Other members of the crew include: Zachary Brown, of Harbeson; Todd Shaffer, of Maryland; Rocco Hladney, of Middletown; Scott Veasey, of Millsboro; Ryan Krammes, of Newark; Kevin Popowich, of Pennsylvania; Dan Mihok, of Vermont; Robert Young, of Townsend and Kurt Bryson, of Wilmington.

This is the group of 20 firefighters from Delaware who traveled to the Northern Rockies on Sunday to battle wildfires.

Despite its small size, Delaware has created quite a reputation when it comes to fighting wildfires.

Another firefighting crew from Delaware traveled to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado in early July and battled wildfires for two weeks. Delaware also has a Type 6 engine with three operators currently committed to the Ferguson Fire in California.

Mr. Hoyd said fighting wildfires is not just something the men and women are just thrown into.

“We always maintain communication with our resources throughout the entire year,” he said. “We hold basic wildfire fighting classes annually.

“We hold a kickoff Fire Camp annually in Blackbird State Forest or Redden State Forest where we work in groups every March. It’s an opportunity to get everybody together, from veterans who have been with us for years all the way to rookies.”

He added, “and we do shelter deployments, go through scenarios, incident-command system and have a squad boss and a crew boss. Crew boss has the final say. They know exactly what’s expected of them and really understand how they have to be to become one unified working group.”

It’s become routine for the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. When the heat of summer intensifies, they know that it’s time to go put out some fires.

Since 1996, the Forest Service has trained more than 600 volunteer firefighters to be part of the 20-person crews it deploys on out-of-state wildfire assignments.

Delaware firefighters have traveled to fires in many states, including: Alaska, California, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

The First State has also sent personnel to aid in national or regional emergencies, such as hurricane relief efforts in Florida in 2004 and New York in 2011.

Trained and dispatched by the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, wildfire crews are comprised of men and women of varying ages and backgrounds who represent a mix of public agencies, nonprofit groups, volunteer fire companies and private citizens.

Sen. Chris Coons tipped his hat to all of the firefighters from Delaware.

“When danger strikes, our firefighters are first on the scene to protect our neighbors and assess the situation,” he said. “Our nation relies on our local firefighters to be first responders to national emergencies, including natural disasters and acts of terrorism and we owe them the support that they need to fill this role.”

Mr. Hoyd said he certainly knows what to expect when the firefighting crew returns home to Delaware in two weeks.

“Typically, when an eastern crew goes out west there’s a time frame when your supervisors look at you and a lot of them don’t really even know there is a state of Delaware,” said Mr. Boyd. “But based on the reviews we’ve received we’ve really gained the respect of those western crews and they speak very highly of our crews.

“It also speaks highly of the training we provide and the types of firefighters that we have.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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