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New Smyrna Beach--Firefighter Returns from Western Wild Fires

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  • New Smyrna Beach--Firefighter Returns from Western Wild Fires

    NEW JOURNAL ON LINE

    Firefighter home after helping compatriots out West

    By MARK I. JOHNSON
    Staff Writer

    Last update: 05 September 2003


    NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Bending over the hoof of his horse, sweat streams from under Bill Henry's cowboy hat.

    "When you live out here, there is always work to do," the 31-year-old said as he cleaned gunk from the animal's foot. That is especially true if you haven't been home for more than two weeks.

    Henry recently returned from 17 days in Idaho. But he wasn't vacationing. Henry was part of a U.S. Forestry Service 20-man crew helping battle wildfires in the Clearwater National Forest near the Idaho-Montana border.

    The career Volusia County firefighter is no stranger to brushfires, but his experienced out West was very different from what he has seen before.

    "When we have to cut a fire line here, we call in a (Division of Forestry) tractor," Henry said. "The terrain is too steep out there."

    That means the work must be done by hand, by men and women climbing up the sides of mountains -- 30 pound packs on their backs -- in the face of racing flames.

    It's a tough job for anyone, but Henry faced an additional challenge. The New Smyrna Beach resident lost the lower part of his left leg in a 2000 motorcycle accident.

    But he did not let his prosthesis hold him back.

    "My fire crew boss didn't even know for the first five days," Henry said, adding the supervisor only found out when he saw Henry's prosthetic supplies in his tent.

    The only time his artificial limb hampered him, Henry said, was when a bolt in its foot broke, but he had a spare ready and was back on the line very shortly.

    Henry acknowledged there were times pushing his 180-pound frame up a 45- degree slope with one leg proved to be a "gut-check," but he kept pace with the rest of his five-man squad.

    "I handled it better than I expected," he said. "I went out there thinking I was in good shape. But I did not expect the cardiopulmonary workout."

    Like everyone on his crew, before Henry could get his red card -- a federal wildfire fighting certification -- he had to past the fitness test. It was a 3-mile hike while wearing a 45-pound pack in a maximum of 45 minutes.

    "After the first 10 minutes, I asked myself what the heck I was doing," he said. But he toughed it out and reached his goal.

    Once in Idaho, he and the his fire team spent 15-hour days, averaging 3 to 5 miles walking up and down mountain slopes, at altitudes of 6,600 feet, cutting barrier lines through the timber with hand tools.

    "I had some people tell me I did it better than some others," he said. "I plan to get my red card every year. Seventeen days for $2,700 is not a bad chunk of change," even though it means leaving behind his wife and child.

    Henry's boss, County Fire Services Director Jim Tauber, expressed no surprise at Henry taking on the formidable task.

    "He never walks away from a challenge," he said.

    Tauber has two other firefighters, Jamie Burnsed and Tim Martin, who also have taken personal time to travel West this summer. He said their journeys, like Henry's, benefit their agency because they return to Volusia County with valuable training and experience.

    Besides, Tauber said, their commitment is a small way to repay the debt the county owes the hundreds of men and women who assisted local fire crews during the 1998 wildfire season.

    [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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