PEABODY — A Peabody man left Saturday with a 20-person crew to battle West Coast wildfires for two weeks.
Jonathan Hallinan, a firefighter with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, will fight alongside 13 DCR colleagues and six team members from various Massachusetts municipalities.
“Our guys are sort of the ground pounders,” DCR Chief Fire Warden David Celino said.
The warden referred to Hallinan’s crew as a “Type 2 initial attack hand crew.” Units with that designation work with hand tools along the edges of wildland fires, removing potential fuel sources like dead trees, brush and dry pine needles. The crews work in conjunction with other tactics like aviation based fire suppression using chemicals and water.
The DCR gathered a crew in response to a request from the U.S. Forest Service and the Northeastern Interagency Coordination Center. Groups from New Hampshire, New York, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the White Mountain National Forest also mobilized to the West Coast, according to a statement from the DCR.
The Massachusetts crew landed in Oregon but was assigned to the Chiwaukum Complex just outside Leavenworth, Washington, a camp with nearly 1,000 firefighters battling blazes across almost 13,000 acres, Celino said.
In contrast to fighting fires in an urban setting, wildland fire crews work 12- to 16-hour days for two to three weeks in succession. To keep everyone safe, commanders frequently rotate units.
Firefighters working on the West Coast wildland fires are federally certified through a 40-hour training that includes a fitness examination involving a 3-mile journey with a 45-pound pack. Firefighters must complete the 3 miles in less than 45 minutes. In Massachusetts, the number of firefighters that are certified varies between 35 and 50 members.
The DCR gets reimbursed by the federal government for time that its crew members spend fighting fires on the West Coast. Additionally, crew members also come back with improved skills, Celino said.
Fires in Oregon and Washington have raged since early July, setting records in the Pacific Northwest. The Massachusetts crew joins West Coast firefighters at a time when officials expect another spell of high temperatures and low humidity starting midweek, Celino said.
Hallinan and the rest of the crew are expected to return after the 14-day deployment, but depending on the status of the fires, crews might be asked to stay an extra week, a DCR spokesperson said.
George LeVines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 617-942-1354.