By Terry Rogers
Last month, several area residents returned to Delaware after battling the Fork Complex Fire near Hayfork, CA, including Katrina Rothbart of Magnolia , Jennifer DeCarlo and Kyle Hoyd of Felton. The crew, led by Milton resident, Erich T. Brukentine, were members of the Delaware Wildland Crew, a specially trained group of volunteers who travel around the country fighting crew, as part of the National Interagency Fire Center. Matt Dotterer, who is a member of the Delaware Wildland Crew, knows firsthand what the firefighters who travelled to California had to deal with.
“I was unable to go on this mission due to work requirements,” Mr. Dotterer said. “I have gone several times, however. I can tell you it is a different kind of heat out there.” According to Mr. Dotterer, all members of the wildfire crews are volunteers. Although he is the Assistant Chief for Milton Fire Company and other members of the crew are volunteer firefighters in the towns where they live, not all have any connection to the fire service.
Mr. Dotterer said that when the crews are required to leave the state, they are paid for the time they are gone. However, if they report to fires within the state, they are not paid nor are they paid for training. Each member must be recertified each year.
“There are two classes that must be taken at Delaware State Fire School,” Mr. Dotterer said. “You are then required to attend Fire Camp and you must pass what is known as the Pack Test. You must carry a 45 pound pack on a three-mile hike and you have to do it in 45 minutes or less. That test is required each year.”
The crew that Mr. Dotterer was on last year is known as a Type 2 Initial Attack (IA) crew. He said that Type I crews are the “hotshot” crews who are year-round professionals. Delaware does not have firefighters at that level currently, but has developed enough training and expertise that they have been able to send Type 2 crews for assistance.
Mr. Dotterer said that the basic Type 2 crew comes in and handles small duties, such as stumps that may be smoldering after a fire has been extinguished in order to reassure those in the area that the fire is out. They may also investigate smoke reports or handle other small duties for the crews ranked at higher levels.
“The Type 2 IA crew, however, does a lot more to help control the fire,” Mr. Dotterer said. “We build fire breaks and do burnouts. A burnout is when you set a fire in a controlled area in order to consume green areas between the edge of a fire and a control line, creating a fire break.” Mr. Dotterer said that he has acted as a Crew Boss and a Crew Representative, which are some of the highest ranking levels on the 20-man crew. He said that he was on the first crew to leave Delaware in order fight a wildfire in Idaho in 2000. He joked that everyone in Idaho called them “flat landers” since Delaware has no mountains.
Since Delaware is a small state, Mr. Dotterer said they are limited in the number of crews they can send to help fight the firefighters. He said that they are always looking for more volunteers who are interested in serving on the crews.
In order to apply to be a member of the Delaware Wildland Crew, individuals should visit the State of Delaware Forest Service Website (http://dda.delaware.gov/forestry/wildland_crew.shtml) to learn what training is required and to apply. Mr. Dotterer said that training takes about one year as the classes are normally offered in January with Fire Camp and the Pack Test required once the classes are completed.