The Delaware Forest Service (DFS) is seeking qualified and motivated candidates for its wildfire training classes at the Delaware State Fire School. In 2014, the Delaware dispatched two 20-person teams to out-of-state assignments through the National Interagency Fire Center. One crew traveled to Oregon to battle wildfires in July while another crew was sent to the West in August to battle fires in Washington and Oregon. Trained and dispatched by the Delaware Department of Agriculture 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, all with an interest in firefighting and a desire to help their communities.
Milford resident John Cirafici , a former Delaware Wildlife Firefighter, encourages individuals that have a desire to volunteer and help others to be a part of the wildlife firefighters program. Cirafici joined 20 Delaware Forest Service volunteers in 2012 to battle the ongoing wildfires in the western United States. The team was assigned to the Cave Canyon Fire, an 8,800-acre blaze located 15 miles southeast of Twin Falls, Idaho. John has fought wildland fires in Utah, California, Colorado, Idaho and Virginia.
“It’s absolutely incredible, the visuals being out West is something to uphold,” said John. “Then the fire itself, to be that close. The best part is the way that people come out to thank you for saving their homes and protecting their property.”
As John’s crew landed in Idaho, they prepared for the hazards of wildland fires including falling trees and ash fields. As the fire creeped closer to residential areas, it was up to the Delaware Fire Crew to help contain the blaze before any property damage occurred. Fighting fire with fire, the crew created a back burn, intentionally starting a controlled fire to create a gap in front of the fire, creating a zone that is difficult for the fire to advance.
Sixty-seven years of age at the time of his DFS service, John cautions possible applicants that each member of the team must be committed to their duty mentally and physically. “You must have the ability to be available. Sometimes you get the call and you must be prepared to be deployed the next day,” said Cirafici. “Once there, they are long day, usually 12 hours, and you work hard. Many times you must sleep up on the ridge waiting to assist other crews. You have to be committed to being there.”
Despite its small size, Delaware has an outstanding reputation on the national firefighting scene and was honored by Governor Markell during the celebration of National Fire Prevention Month last October. Since the program’s inception in the 1990s, the First State has also sent personnel to aid in other national or regional emergencies, such as hurricane relief in Florida and New York.
“There is a very positive side to the experience that I was unaware of when I started,” said Cirafici. “Just being a part of it and the camaraderie from the rest of the crew.”
Applicants should be at least 18 years of age, physically and mentally fit, motivated to learn, and both willing and able to travel for up to two weeks or more for out-of-state fire assignments. Previous firefighting experience is not required. The first set of wildfire training classes will be held on Saturday and Sunday, January 24 and 25, from 9 am to 4 pm each day at the Delaware State Fire School in Dover, DE. For information, individuals are encouraged to go to http://de.gov/wildfire or call Kyle Hoyd at 302-698-4548.