The crew's mitigation projects make a visible difference in reducing wildfire risk to communities in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Fuels treatment economics Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

Rapid City, SD Hires Veterans for Wildfire Fuel Mitigation

Author: Lieutenant Tim Weaver, Rapid City Fire Department

The Rapid City Survivable Space Initiative has started training U.S. veterans since 2013 on wildland fuels mitigation.

The Rapid City Survivable Space Initiative has started training U.S. veterans since 2013 to perform wildfire fuel mitigation.

The Rapid City Fire and Parks Departments announced a new program in June 2013 that is part of the city’s successful Survivable Space Initiative, which focuses on the removal of hazardous fuels. Partnering with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Rapid City hires veterans returning from active duty to conduct wildfire fuel reduction while they transition to civilian life. The program has many benefits: it is helping veterans, restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, raising wildfire awareness and improving the safety of Rapid City neighborhoods.

Veterans in the program receive training in firefighting, emergency preparedness, equipment operation, forestry or their desired field of interest. Rapid City is not unlike many cities in the West – battling mountain pine beetle infestations and tackling hazardous fuel reduction for wildfire. The BLM Wildfire Community Assistance Program has greatly assisted our effort to address this ever-growing problem where manpower and funds are at a premium.

Since inception, the partnership has hired seven veterans who have reduced hazardous fuels on close to 60 acres, protecting over $26 million worth of properties. Partnerships with both federal agencies and private landowners have been established to mitigate large tracts of land adjacent to neighborhoods that face severe threats from wildfire, and have tied in with homeowner efforts to reduce their own wildfire risk. Fire-adapted ecosystems have been restored in these areas. The program has also increased public awareness of the importance of living consciously in a landscape where fire is a natural and common occurrence.

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD) visited Rapid City’s veteran wildfire fuel mitigation program recently and got to talk with some of the veterans and see the work being done to help protect Rapid City neighborhoods from wildfire. This is the second time Senator Thune has visited Rapid City to view progress through our Survivable Space Initiative’s wildfire mitigation programs. The Rapid City Fire Department has been working with South Dakota elected representatives to explain the critical importance of programs like these and to help ensure continued funding.

Of the seven veterans hired, two have successfully graduated from the program to find permanent employment in their desired field. The experience gained through this program helped them land positions fighting fires with the Black Hills Helitack and Mystic Ranger District crews.

Outcomes like these are exactly what this partnership is supposed to produce. Rapid City is both excited and proud to be helping our heroes of military service continue to serve both their country and local communities. Additional information on the program can be found by reading Rapid City Survivable Space newsletter archives. Questions or comments can also be sent directly to Lieutenant Tim Weaver: tim.weaver(at)rcgov.org.

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