SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (KERO) — The USDA Forest Service is taking steps to ensure the safety of their crews as they work on the Giant Sequoia Emergency Response in the Sequoia National Forest. The firefighters are still making progress in clearing the groves of flammable brush and undergrowth, even as they contend with triple-digit temperatures, steep terrain, rolling boulders, and ground hornets. According to a press release by the Forest Service, the crews are maintaining an excellent safety record despite these challenges.
Two 20-person crews out of Porterville, CA are working on each end of the Black Mountain Grove in the Western Divide Ranger District, and two more 20-person crews are working in Indian Basin in the Hume Lake Ranger District. Locating the crews safely away from each other prevents injuries when rocks roll downhill or when trees are felled.
“The standing dead trees are one of our biggest threats,” said Matt Ball, Task Force Leader. “Boulders are another threat. When the crews fall a tree, many time boulders are dislodged from the vibrations from felling the trees.”
Crew members are also staying hydrated and seeking shade during their breaks. They eat salty snacks to keep up their electrolytes, and keep in touch with one another regularly using handheld radios.
“They exhibit a responsible work ethic by looking out for each other and taking care of themselves, said Fireline EMT Kate Batten. “A boring day for us is a great day for the crews. That means nobody got hurt, and nobody got sick.”
During daily morning briefings, safety messages stress the importance of hydration and knowing the warning signs of heat-related illnesses. Emergency Medical Technicians are also onsite with the crews throughout the day to respond to any injuries or illnesses.
Even in these high-risk conditions, crew members are glad to be part of this important work.
“I enjoy everything this program represents,” said Luis Moreno, Squad Leader for the Scorpions 3 OC Crew. “Helping the forest with the fires and now with this special project to protect the Giant Sequoias. Being able to be out here and helping with the project, it’s something special.”
Jose Leyva, Crew Leader with the Scorpions 3 agrees.
“It’s a privilege being out here doing this ind of work for the Giant Sequoias knowing that you’re doing something that’s going to make an impact on these trees throughout the years,” said Leyva. “These tress are something our grandchildren will someday get to see. It’s an honor working for the OC program on the Sequoia National Forest.”