Davis Fire Crew

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Mailing address
PO Box 171, Davis CA 95617
Phone
(530) 758-4450
Email
info@davisfirecrew.org
Website
[WWW]Davis Fire Crew

Overview

Davis Fire Crew, established in 1976, is a seasonal firefighting crew based in Davis which hires men and women 18+ years of age to become wildland firefighters for the US Forest Service; Wilbur Wildland Fire Transport is often used for transport. Davis crews are "Type II" organized hand crews based in Mendocino National Forest and can be dispatched to wildfires across the Western United States. For the last 25 years, they have fought forest fires as close as Lake Tahoe and as far as Montana and New Mexico. Out of 100+ Davis crew members who are hired every summer, crews of around 20 people are dispatched on 14-17 day tours to the Mendocino National Forest, and from there can be sent anywhere in the country, although the great majority of action is seen around Northern California. Each crew consists of 19 people: one crew leader, three squad leaders, at least two certified chainsaw operators, and regular crew members. They are normally joined by a Forest Service crew boss on the first day of dispatch, and these individuals are mostly experienced firefighters who are trained to serve as overhead coordinators. Davis Fire Crew recruits mainly UC Davis students, although non-students are welcome to apply.

Davis Fire Crew is an Organized Crew (OC) which is a Type-2 on call crew funded by a national forest, paying a crew organizer to recruit new firefighters and for their training. While on dispatch, crews are paid by whichever forest district they happen to be in. As of 2005, Davis Fire Crew is one of three OC's that operate out of Mendocino National Forest, the others being the Chico and Willits Fire Crews.

Each summer, DFC gives informational meetings, usually on the UC Davis campus, where prospective hires can sign up for physical testing. Those who pass this stage then begin the training process, given by employees of Mendocino National Forest, on fire suppression techniques, fire safety and behavior, proper tool usage, prevention of sexual harrassment and various other skills. Those who pass this stage are qualified as wildland firefighters and can begin work immediately. With experience and the consent of the crew boss, which generally occurs on their first fire, first-year firefighters can be given a raise from the AD-A pay scale to AD-B. (AD rates rise somewhat each year, but the rates for 2007 have been negotiated up quite dramatically from the 2005 season. AD-A now pays $11.72 per hour while AD-B was bumped up to about $13.00. Even higher pay rates are attainable for those in leadership positions or those who operate the chainsaws.)

Operation

Work on a fire crew mainly consists of arduous labor with wildland firefighting hand-tools such as the Pulaski (axe/hoe), shovel, McLeod (hoe/rake) and chainsaw. Primary duties of a hand crew are cutting containment line around a fire, locating and removing hot-spots so new fires won't start, monitoring unburned areas to make sure sparks don't jump the line and start new fires, removing fuels from areas to prevent them from igniting in the future and generally supporting an overall firefighting effort. Davis Fire Crew is almost never alone on a fire, and is usually working alongside engine crews, other hand crews, helicopters, water tenders and other personnel. Shifts can last up to 36 hours at a time, and during that time the crew will not necessarily be allowed any resting time. Amenities of civilization such as showers, cooked meals, beds, running water and electricity are not guaranteed over the course of a dispatch.

Those who return to DFC after a summer of experience can qualify for higher-paying work such as squad leader ("squaddie"), sawyer and crew leader. Some first-year crew members who show adequate skill have become squad leaders and sawyers in the past. Crew leaders have responsibility over the safety and smooth functioning of the entire crew. Through a chain of command, their orders go through the three squad leaders, each of whom have responsibility of 5 to 7 firefighters. Sawyers are chainsaw operators who work on a 2-person saw-team, each consisting of one sawyer and one swamper. Swampers in the past have generally been first years who showed good work ethic, although in recent crews the sawyer and swamper have both been saw-certified and switch duties at intervals.

Reputation

Sometimes derogatively thought of as a "college crew," "not-shots," or a "mop-up" crew, Davis Fire Crews, like all type-II hand crews, occupy the lowest rung of the wildland firefighting ladder, below Type-II IA (Initial-attack) crews and Type-I "Hotshot" crews. Therefore, many times DFC is called in to "mop-up" a fire that has already been contained, taking measures to prevent the fire from flaring up again by extinguishing remaining hot-spots or areas where heat still remains. Oftentimes Davis crews will stage at an area, staying in an area as a preventive measure in case a fire starts. During this time, crews generally do project work, which is various chores and tasks that the local forest needs to have accomplished. In many cases this involves thinning fuels in heavily-grown areas as part of an overall strategy of reducing extreme fire risk to a forest. However, DFC crews have consistently participated in direct attacks on fires many times in the past, and it is very likely during a normal season that a crew will see some sort of fire activity within their 2-week dispatch.

Forest service type-II crews are generally looked down upon by many, as many organized crews (OC's) are considered to be made up of inexperienced, undisciplined and untrained individuals. However, the crew policies of Davis Fire Crew seek to give the crew a better image. A dress code (consisting of a crew t-shirt and fire-resistant Nomex pants) is strictly enforced, as is a no-drinking or drug use policy. The use of profanity or other unprofessional behavior is discouraged in public areas, and the ever-present "public eye" is stressed whenever the crew is in an area with regular citizens, such as stores or restaurants. In many ways, DFC crews resemble type-I crews in the way they handle themselves, maintaining a professional image while working harder than an OC is expected to perform. It is because of this professional behavior combined with a solid work ethic that DFC has earned the reputation of being a respectable crew

Pay from wildland firefighting is considered quite good for a summer job (Individuals make roughly $2000 - $4000 over a 2-week period, before taxes). Crew members also receive free meals and medical care (for work-related conditions) throughout the duration of the dispatch, as well as transportation and occassional hotel stays.

The DFC Crew Organizer is Mike Wilbur. MattJurach is a former crew organizer.

2006 AD Pay Scale (hourly wage)

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Comments:

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2005-10-13 09:46:37   Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. —JuliaNiazov

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