Two National Park Service and a TNC firefighter dig line together on an Indiana crew on the Rim Fire this summer. [Photo provided]
Crews from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore were among 82 firefighters deployed from Indiana so far this year to respond to western wildfires in what's been described as one of the worst years on record. Maggie Schuetter, director of the Indiana Interagency Coordination Center, says all the Indiana fire fighters are home now, but the western fire season isn’t over and they could be called out again. Of the 82, some were sent as crews, and some in positions helping with a variety of tasks such as logistics, safety, and operations officers.
“Indiana firefighters worked on 47 different wildfire incidents this year; building fire lines, cutting hazard trees, and protecting homes,” Schuetter said. “They also managed fire camps, dispatched personnel and equipment, made maps and planned the next day’s work, and kept firefighters safe on the line and in camp.”
Crews and resources from Indiana were sent to 11 states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin. "Towards the end of the season, probably the most activity was in California, where most of the crews from the east went to; however in the beginning of fire season, most crews went to Alaska," Schuetter said. Schuetter says Indiana firefighters are ordered through a national system out of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The orders for personnel and equipment are filled by the closest available resources from a variety of state and federal agencies.
Firefighters come from across the state and represent the Hoosier National Forest (USDA Forest Service), Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Lincoln Boyhood National Monument (National Park Service), Big Oaks (US Fish and Wildlife Service), Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and The Nature Conservancy. Some are professional firefighters; many are foresters, wildlife biologists, recreation specialists, and other resource managers who have specialized fire training to do the many jobs required to support fire suppression efforts. Each person who goes on assignment is expected to be out for at least 14 working days. They all have completed a rigorous course of training specific to the job they will be doing. They have also spent time in on-the-job training before getting certified in their individual positions.
Indiana personnel who are trained firefighters could go on multiple assignments throughout the year. Demand for Indiana firefighters usually slows once cooler temperatures arrive in the mountainous western states, normally sometime in late September or early October.