Repairman from Lycoming County helps fight western forest fires
Justin Campbell is not just an everyday maintenance repairman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — he also works to help fight forest fires out west with a state program DCNR provides for their workers.
DCNR is responsible for responding to all wildfires that happen in the state, and all employees go through a wildfire training program for Pennsylvania, Campbell said.
Campbell decided to take it a step further and enter the program two years ago, to train and take classes to travel and fight fires in western states, including Wyoming and Colorado.
This year, Campbell helped fight numerous fires with close to 300 other DCNR employees from various state districts.
Campbell split his first few days of his 14-day excursion in August between the Richard Mountain and Bradley fires in Wyoming before being sent to the Cameron Peak fire in Colorado. The latter was the largest Colorado wildfire, and it burned for 112 consecutive days.
In a second trip, Campbell helped with the Mullen fire in Wyoming.
“These trips this year were neat experiences,” he said. “We did a lot more direct work, working with the helicopters and being on the front line.”
He, alongside other DCNR program volunteers, were never in harm’s way of the physical fire, but provided help in other operations like digging lines, cutting trees and taking away anything that might fuel the fire.
He even added that with the ongoing pandemic, the “dynamic” of the trip was different in that the program volunteers had to drive out in a rental car with all of their equipment, get to the location to pitch a tent, ensure social distancing was obeyed and get right to work.
“We would start a controlled burn to stop the fire from spreading, taking away its fuel source so it can’t grow,” he said. “It, of course, gets you a little nervous, but we aren’t usually that close to the fire.”
“It makes you feel good” knowing you helped the firefighters, he continued. “My experiences have always been positive and the people appreciate us coming out here.”
“You get to meet people and work with them in these situations where you are working for long hours and you just start to form a bond with the guys on your crew and become a tight-knit group,” he added. “It’s a lot of fun for me.”