30 new recruits ready to join fight against wildfire

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Carson City Firefighter trainee Cory Brewer takes a rest between digging.  He hopes someday to be a fire investigator.

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Carson City Firefighter trainee Cory Brewer takes a rest between digging. He hopes someday to be a fire investigator.

A line of firefighters sawed, chopped and raked their way through sagebrush in southeast Carson City on Thursday, cutting a fire break to stop imaginary flames. It was the last day of a Bureau of Indian Affairs rookie firefighting school at the Stewart facility.

After a graduation ceremony today, 30 new recruits will be ready to face fire.

"They could be sent anywhere in the nation," said Jacqueline C. Hawley, fire management officer for the Western Nevada Agency of the bureau.

This is the third year her office has offered a rookie school - and one of their toughest student groups yet.

"We haven't had anybody quit this year," Hawley said. "We usually have one or two that decide this just isn't something they want to do."

Wildland firefighters go through 40 hours of classroom and field exercises covering five different courses. They take written examinations of firefighting tactics, strategy, safety, fire behavior and basic weather.

"I learned a lot," said Johnny Bonta of Reno. "I learned about safety zones and escape routes. We also worked on maps. It's been great."

Like Bonta, a Paiute, most of the students are American Indians. Other recruits came from around Pyramid Lake, Yerington, Walker and McDermitt.

Student Cory Brewer has lived in Carson City for four years.

"This is all I've wanted to do my whole life," he said, catching his breath after swinging a tool. "I've just always thought it'd be exciting - plus I want to help people."

He and the other recruits called out their actions as they moved along.

"Moving!" they'd yell before shuffling down the line.

"Swinging!" they'd say before swinging an ax.

"If you don't communicate - somebody's going to get hurt," said Hawley.

Members of the Morning Star Hot Shots, a crew hosted by the Western Nevada Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, taught the class.

"What we're stressing here is mostly safety," said squad leader Aaron Baldwin. "Making sure they use good spacing and don't swing tools too close to each other."

He had a saw team - made up of the sawyer who cuts and the swamper who clears brush - working at the front of the line.

"Part of being a Hot Shot is not only fighting fires but also teaching firefighting skills," said Stan Heinrichs, superintendent of the Morning Star crew.

Starting his 25th season of firefighting, Heinrichs said he enjoys the classes.

"You end up seeing these rookies for years to come."

The student firefighters are paid $9.96 an hour during training. Their pay is funded by a federal program, Hawley said. Her office pays for their lodging, meals and the staff with money from a regional BIA office in Phoenix.

Once qualified, pay for a regular crew member is $11.68 an hour.

Most of the 30 students graduating today will join Bureau of Indian Affairs crews in Western Nevada.

Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

For information on the Bureau of Indian Affairs rookie firefighting school, held each June, call 887-3521.


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