BOISE, Idaho – The Idaho National Guard made organizational history by sending wildland Firefighter Type 2 Red Card-certified Soldiers and Airmen to northern Idaho to fight fires for the first time.
The newly assigned crewmembers of Task Force Timber Shield left Boise Aug. 4 to help the Idaho Department of Lands contain more than 15 significant wildland fires burning in the state.
It's the first time the IDL has asked Idaho Gov. Brad Little to declare an emergency to make Idaho National Guard resources available to fight fires on the ground.
Some Guard members received the notice to volunteer early in July and immediately began training to earn their FFT2 Incident Qualification Cards, commonly known as a Red Card certification.
"I made sure my name was on that list when I heard the call for volunteers," said 2nd Lt. Travis Stice. "It will be hard, physical labor, which I am excited for. I told my son that I was going to leave to go fight fires and he said, 'But you are in the Army, you're not a firefighter,' and I said, 'We do everything, buddy.'"
Stice is one of 72 Idaho Guard members who have earned a Red Card, with more Guardsmen completing the training in anticipation of additional missions. This is his first State Active Duty mission.
"I am very excited that this is a state mission," Stice said. "It's the reason I signed up for the Idaho National Guard, to help the citizens of Idaho, along with serving my country. I just love my fellow Idahoans. I called my employer with one day's notice and they said, 'Awesome, just come back safe and we'll work everything out when you come back.' They were very supportive even with the short notice."
The Guard members will assist with firefighting on the 6.2 million acres of land across mostly northern Idaho where IDL provides fire protection.
The IDL provided one crew boss and two squad bosses, with 16 fully trained Guard members completing a 19-person crew.
"We are currently training more Soldiers and Airmen as they volunteer for this mission in the hopes of building a large capacity consisting of several hand crews," said Lt. Col. Tony Vincelli, commander of Task Force Timber Shield. "This is the kind of mission that makes serving in the National Guard so unique and rewarding. I hope Soldiers and Airmen see how rewarding this mission is and truly understand the impact they could have."
The Guardsmen were issued firefighting personal protective equipment, fire-resistant clothing, hand tools and sleeping accommodations from the National Interagency Fire Center.
"The boots on the ground, physical labor of this kind of work is different than anything I have ever done in my career," said Maj. Robin Kiska, from the 224th Cyber Operations Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. "It's like an extreme hiking adventure in extreme conditions. It will be hard work but a welcomed challenge."
The governor's emergency declaration also authorized other personnel to support firefighting logistical activities and make National Guard aircraft resources available.
The Idaho National Guard has two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and pilots, crew chiefs, refueling crew and essential maintenance personnel assisting with aerial firefighting. Since July 13, the crews have dropped more than 205,576 gallons of water on several fires.
Additionally, eight Guard members are providing logistical support at the Idaho Fire Cache warehouse in Coeur d'Alene.
The IDL, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and the Idaho National Guard developed a partnership a few years ago.
"Today marked yet another milestone in the proud history of the Idaho National Guard as wildland firefighter ground crews mobilized and deployed to support the growing wildland fire threats across our state," said Brig. Gen. Russ Johnson, director of the Idaho National Guard Joint Staff. "Our National Guard service members – and their families – have again answered the call to support the citizens of Idaho during this volatile fire season."
Around the country, more than 770 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from eight states are helping fight wildland fires. Four UH-60 Black Hawks, two CH-47 Chinooks and one UH-72 Lakota helicopter are involved. In addition, four C-130 crews from California, Nevada and Wyoming equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems have made 257 drops of fire retardant during 366 sorties.
The National Interagency Fire Center reports over 38,200 fires have burned 3.2 million acres across 14 states.