Friday, March 22, 2013

SNRAS alum receives national recognition as smokejumper

Two veterans of the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments last year. Those accomplishments included working together to initiate a new combined training for first-year smokejumpers in Idaho and Alaska.

Chris Swisher of Fairbanks (who earned his B.S. in natural resources management at UAF in 2007) and Ben Oakleaf of Boise, Idaho, were named winners of the 2013 “Al Dunton Smokejumper Leadership Award,” which recognizes outstanding accomplishments of BLM and Forest Service smokejumper personnel.

Swisher and Oakleaf were nominated for their work combining first-year smokejumper training for Alaska and Great Basin rookie smokejumpers. Combined rookie training was conducted in the past but for a dozen years, the Alaska and Great Basin rookie jumpers trained separately. The 2012 training was a huge success, and is planned again this year. Training together provides added value for the jumpers, including developing familiarity with firefighters that are likely to work together on fires.

“The more we know each other and about each other, the more seamless it is when we integrate the crews,” says Oakleaf.

Oakleaf and Swisher started their careers together on the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshot Crew with the BLM Alaska Fire Service and have been good friends for over a decade. Their supervisors describe the two as having a great work ethic and outstanding attitudes. Swisher jumps out of Fort Wainwright and Oakleaf, a Great Basin smokejumper, is based in Boise, Idaho.

“It [The award] was a surprise,” says Swisher. “I didn’t know anything about it until I was told that I won.” Oakleaf added, “I didn’t even know I was nominated until the jumper manager called me into his office and told me. I was very surprised.”

The award is named after Al Dunton, who served as a rookie smokejumper in Fairbanks in 1967. He managed the smokejumper base there from 1972 through 1984 and remained active in fire management throughout his career. The award was established by the interagency smokejumper base managers and the National Smokejumper Association, with the support of Al Dunton’s wife, Mary, and other family members.

(The BLM manages more land – 256 million surface acres – than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western States, including 75 million in Alaska. The bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical and cultural resources on the public lands.)

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