A New Crew of Young Firefighters

Schenk Job Corp program provides unique fire management training

Members of the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew. Photo courtesy of Schenck Job Corps CCC.

As you read this, members of the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew are out fighting a wildfire or helping conduct a prescribed fire to reduce fuel or restore a forest ecosystem. The team of young men from across the United States recently completed their training under a unique advanced fire management program provided by the U.S. Forest Service Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (Schenck) located on the Davidson River near Brevard, North Carolina.

This premiere program, led by Superintendent Anthony Conte and Squad Leaders Julian Esquivel and Sam Lewis, started at Schenck and is the only program of its kind in the Job Corps.

“To get ready to deploy this January, the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew completed 10 weeks of critical training that consisted of National Wildfire Coordinating Group classes, field exercises, and daily physical training,” says Conte. “This 10-week training period is essential for the crew development process and provides valuable opportunities for the crew and crew leadership to build cohesion and camaraderie.”

“The primary mission of the program is to train entry level firefighters and help them pursue entry level jobs within the Forest Service,” says Conte. “Members of the crew  travel to different areas across the country to assist in keeping our natural resources safe. The fire management program is highly regarded as creating one of the best fire teams in the nation.”

Last year the crew worked a total of 15 wildfire and six prescribed fire assignments. “Our first assignment was the 49er fire on the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas,” says Conte. “In February and March the crew traveled to the Ocala National Forest in Florida where we spent 21 days working on the Hopkins Prairie fire and several smaller initial attack fires. Then we spent the month of April working suppression and prescribed fires in North Carolina on the Pisgah, Nantahala and Croatan National Forests.”

Schenk, directed by Tammy Wentland, is currently both the top ranked Job Corps Center and Forest Service Center in the United States. “Students also help with trail maintenance, firefighting, fuel reduction, and rescue missions in the local forest,” says Wentland. “The graduation rate for the advanced fire management program is 100 percent, with all the students placed in jobs, and over 86 percent placed in Forest Service jobs.”

“This program has made a huge impact on the region and the agency,” continues Wentland. “Students completing this training have gone on to become Forest Service employees in various forests across the nation. This further expands diversity in the Forest Service and also increases the awareness of the Job Corps program in those areas where the students are hired.”

There are currently five Forest Service Job Corps Centers located in southern national forests.  Each provides a wide array of vocational and educational opportunities for at-risk, low-income youth from across the region.  In North Carolina, Job Corps Center students have assisted in the construction and maintenance of buildings and structures throughout the national forests including  the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Building, Cradle of Forestry, and the Ecosystems Ecology Building at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory.

For more information, email Tammy Wentland at twentland@fs.fed.us or Anthony Conte at aconte@fs.fed.us.

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