By Jennifer Tapley / Training Specialist
“We got one!” That’s what Annie Potts’ character, Janine Melnitz, from the original Ghostbusters movie, said excitedly when she received the first ghost-removal call at the Sedgewick Hotel. That’s the exact emotion I have when I get a call requesting our 20-man Type 2 Initial Attack (T2IA) hand crew for a western U.S. assignment.
I have been resourcing the Georgia Forestry Commission hand crew for 10 years now and it’s always a thrill when I relay that message to our crew boss, saying, “We got one! You guys are going to Oregon!” (Or California, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and even Alabama!) Wherever they are sent, the Georgia crew shows up representing our great state with enthusiasm, endurance, and the willingness to do whatever is asked of them, with safety being their priority. The bond these crews build is something to witness.
We have a core group of about 12 seasoned wildland firefighters, and their ability to work together, through the good times and the challenging ones, is something we all wish we could accomplish. Imagine being away from your family for 16-18 days, and working with the same 19 people every day. Some days they go without showers and a hot meal. They hike up the sides of mountains as tall as the eye can see, working hard, 12-14 hours a day. They carry fire gear on their backs and haul hand tools and chainsaws, used to “scratch lines” to reach the mineral soil. And let’s not forget the fuel needed to run the chainsaws; it’s heavy!
And all the while they must wear full wildland personal protective equipment, which is not particularly breathable in the dead of summer. The temperatures get high, and crew members have fire surrounding them on most every corner. And though some evenings may be cooler, there’s still sleeping in a stuffy tent, eating MRE’s or sack lunches, and on occasion, even having a bear come visit camp.
This is not a vacation for these men and women, and in some of their eyes, it’s not
even a job. This is a “drive” that each team member feels deep inside. It is their passion to help homes that are threatened and the people and wildlife that call these areas home. Their hearts are all about service. They leave as a 20-man hand crew, designed to work as a team to accomplish the assigned tasks, and come back as a family. And these family bonds do not just stop once they get back to Georgia. They grow stronger over the months and years. Everything they’ve seen and learned is brought back to their jobs at GFC. As the saying goes, “Friends that travel
together, stay together,” and this couldn’t be more true of the men and women on the Georgia state hand crews. I am proud to call them colleagues. I am proud to call them friends.