GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.
This fire season a group of veterans became the first members of the Western Colorado Conservation Corp Veteran Crew, fighting wildland fires in Colorado and the region. The crew helped protect multiple fires in the state, and the program is now opening new doors for these Colorado veterans.
Over time the nine veterans became one firefighting crew.
"The real situation is a lot different than training, in the sense that we don't train with fire. So you're not dealing with heat, smoke and all that," said veteran firefighter Tyler Fairbank.
They say they'll never forget that first fire.
Joe Stabenow, another veteran firefighter, said, "Ward Gulch was the one that really stuck out in our minds as far as what it takes to be a wildland firefighter. That one challenged us to the max immediately."
After that they were assigned to several more, "We came together. We work together well, we know each other a lot better. You see the cohesiveness now as a fire team that we are," said Fairbank.
Field Coordinator Marcus Kissner said, "I think we really exceeded expectations so far on both our project completions and the amount of time the crews spent out on fires."
The program has already opened new doors for some of the veterans.
Stabenow said, "I'm currently doing a wildlife internship. We're mapping and measuring the health of the land throughout this BLM office."
Stabenow plans to return to the vet crew, and help with its expansion,
"This season we were a nine-man crew. Hopefully in the near future, within five years, hopefully there will be a 20-man crew."
"Looking for veterans that are highly motivated, good strong work ethic," said Kissner.
Despite the strenuous job, the crew still manages to have some fun, "I think we accomplished most of what we set out to do. There's probably a few things, like maturity, that we haven't quite grasped!" said Stabenow.
Those staying on board are already looking forward to the next firefighting season.
Veterans interested in applying for a spot can call Kissner at (970) 210-1394. They can also stop by the office located behind Discount Tires on North Avenue.
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