- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - The Boxelder Fire Crew 15, a group of young men and women from the Boxelder Job Corps, was among the first firefighting crew to reach the Crow Peak Fireline on June 24. The team of 10, at-risk and low-income students from around the world trained at the Boxelder Job Corps campus near Nemo.

These students, aged 18 to 24 years old, volunteered to take on firefighting training as an extracurricular activity in addition to their normal classwork. Though paid for their work, these young firefighters trained every day when their classes ended, making for long days. In fact, their firefighting duties often prolong their education at the Boxelder Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center.

The crew’s presence in Spearfish the first day of the Crow Creek Fire was coincidental.

“We happened to be at the U.S. Forest Service Spearfish Work Center that day because of all the lightning and how hot and dry it was” in the Spearfish area, Robert Cota fire program manager at the Boxelder Job Corps, said. That evening the team was called for the initial attack on the Crow Peak Fire. It took an hour to hike to the fire.

The crew attacked the fire alongside a smaller Forest Service fire engine crew. Within a few hours, however, forecasted 50-60 mph winds forced the firefighters’ evacuation.

Cota was pleased at his crew’s performance.

“We gave it a nice strong go. Everybody worked really hard,” Cota said.

Some of the crew fought fires earlier in the year including the April 3-9 Cold Fire in Wind Cave National Park and the April 23-25 Storm Hill Fire near Hill City. Two team members also fought fires in Alabama and Florida.

Such direct fire attack requires tough and time-intensive, physical training. Cota, admitted that “it wears on them, delays their time here.” But, he explained, the experience serves the mission of the Job Corps: to train young people for high-paying jobs and careers.

Firefighting training qualifies students “to apply for jobs at any land management agency or any state agency that fights wildland fires for jobs at any land management agency or any state agency that fights wildland fires. I just give them another opportunity,” Cota said.

“The students go through the exact same basic wildland firefighter Type 2 training that any wildland firefighter goes through in the United States,” said Cota, who trained and led the team.

Type 2 training qualifies firefighters to directly fight wildfires, suppressing, controlling, igniting, monitoring and mopping up. Only Type 1 crews, the highly-experienced “Hot Shots,” operate at a higher level.

This is Boxelder Fire Crew 15’s first season. The team began its training in October 2015. Their training, largely physical conditioning, takes place between 3-5 p.m., after classes, every day. None of them had experience fighting fires before starting the training.

The students also earn their Red Cards, certificates that qualify them to fight wildland fires. The card represents their training, abilities, fitness, and experience. Red Card training includes the pack test, where trainees complete a 45 minute, three mile walk, carrying a 45-pound pack.

“This is by far the most mature, willing and smart group that I’ve had in the four years we’ve been doing this,” Cota said. “We have students from all walks of life on the fire crew now. We have one from the Philippines, we have four or five Native Americans from South Dakota, we have students from Wyoming, students from Colorado, really from all walks of life.”

The diversity of the Boxelder Fire Crew 15 “represents the Job Corps,” Cota explained.

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Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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