Being in the military has its thrills. Now, crank that up a notch and add in wildland firefighting when not on duty with the Army.
For one Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. Forrest Moreland, when not in his Army uniform and combat boots, he puts on a different set of clothes — a yellow Hotshot suit and black leather boots. A Hotshot is a very skilled, technical, and tactical firefighter who fights wildland fires at their hottest points.
Moreland is a crewmember of the Diamond Mountain Hotshots based in Susanville, California. Though most little kids only dream of being heroes such as police officers and fire fighters, Moreland within the last few years made his dream became a reality.
“I discovered wildland fire my junior year of college while getting my Forest Resource Management degree from West Virginia University,” said Moreland, a Signal Support Systems Specialist in the 111th Engineer Brigade. “I have chased the flames ever since.”
Getting accepted into the wildland firefighting community may seem like a regular job application process at first.
With Moreland having a bachelor’s degree in forestry studies, he had a leg up on other applicants, but still had to complete basic certifications and a fitness test to be accepted onto a crew.
Moreland was ultimately accepted and assigned to the Diamond Mountain Hotshot Crew.
Once welcomed to his new crew, there was training that had to be done — like most jobs — but the stakes are a little higher with this one. Having already been in the military, Moreland was up for the physical and mental challenges he would face during his new on the job training but still had no idea what to expect.
As a new member of the Diamond Mountain Hotshots, the crew completes a rigorous 2,000 vertical foot incline hike up Diamond Mountain. This crew must complete this hike every day on the job or they get extinguished from the crew.
“This half-mile hike must be completed every morning in full gear under 59 minutes and 59 seconds,” said Moreland. “Last season we had four that didn’t make it, but I already had the military mindset of 'getting through the suck', so it helped a little.”
The culture around being a Hotshot is not dissimilar to that of serving in the military. Both encompass dangerous duties and working closely with the same group of people, which builds a special sense of trust and comradery.
“Crew culture is a very tight nit group of people,” said Moreland. “Most crews are around 20 fire fighters and these people are responsible for your life every single day — you have to be able to trust them.”
While surrounded by the same people every day of fire season for over six straight months, Moreland said he gets to learn a lot about his teammates and how to be a better leader himself. The number one thing he has taken away from his time with the Hotshots is communication.
“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Moreland. “That goes for peer-to-peer, air-to-ground, you name it. Communication is key.”
Moreland mentioned that he has observed impressive acts of service and great leadership examples while serving on the Hotshot crew.
“An act of leadership that I have played a large role in is knowing when to call the crew off the fire when it is most unpredictable,” said Moreland. “My squad leader yelled from the top of the ridge to get down to the dozer path, and after twenty seconds I made it out to see the flames jump behind me.”
Most people do not have the courage to risk their life for a job, but for Moreland, his passion for service is worth the risk — as both a civilian and a Soldier.
September is Firefighter Appreciation Month. Join us in thanking all firefighters for their sacrifice and dedication to keeping people safe.