Responding to a spike in wildfire activity in the West that increased the National Fire Preparedness Level to 4 on a 5-point scale, Delaware joined forces with neighboring Mid-Atlantic states to dispatch a module of five crews, a total of 100 firefighters, to battle fires for the Great Basin’s Geographic Area Coordination Center. Allen Austin Gardner-Bowler of Milford departed Harrisburg, PA this summer, with the Delaware wild land fire crews, flying to Salt Lake City, Utah to join neighboring states.
“It was not what I expected, some days were extremely hot and we walked for miles while other days it was raining and 40 degrees out,” said, Gardner-Bowler. “It was extremely vigorous and physically demanding and there was very much a mental aspect to it.”
The Pioneer Fire in Idaho alone scorched more than 100,000 acres and was only 38 percent contained when Delaware crews arrived. More than 1,800 fire personnel were battling the fire that had already cost more than $66 million. Gardner-Bowler is a forth generation member of the Carlisle Fire Company in Milford, DE. His family’s commitment to community service is what drove him to join the department in 2012.
“It is important to me that those that can serve, help those that cannot do for themselves,” he said. “It was an opportunity to do something new and exciting while helping others in need.”
In Idaho, the Delaware Wildland Fire Crew completed fire suppression tactics and was a part of the Type II attack crew. They were given a division of the larger fire and were responsible for making sure that there were no hot spots on top or underground that could add more fuel to the spreading fire. Austin states that the duality of his surroundings was something he did not expect.
“Even with the destruction of the wildlife around us, there was so much beauty there,” said Gardner-Bowler. “It forced me out of my comfort zone and was eyeopening to see how wildfires are battled on the ground level.”
Gardner-Bowler hopes that he can take some of the fire suppression tactics learned in the field back to Carlisle Fire Company. Although the strategy of containing and suppressing a structure fire is different, Austin believes that the information will be useful when the company fights brush fires in Delaware.
Gardner-Bowler was out West for a total of 18 days. A second crew from Delaware was dispatched to Colorado . They battled the 492-acre Milk Fire near Craig, Colorado and the 1,287-acre Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View, Wyoming. They finished up on the 12,276-acre Whit Fire, east of Yellowstone National Park near Cody, Wyoming.
The Delaware Forest Service is seeking qualified and motivated candidates for its wildfire training classes at the Delaware State Fire School. Applicants should be at least 18 years of age, physically and mentally fit, motivated to learn and willing and able to travel for up to two weeks or more, usually during the summer months, for out-of-state fire assignments. Previous firefighting experience is not required. For more information individuals interested can contact Kyle Hoyd, DFS Wildland Fire Program, by phone at 302-698-4548 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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