Mike Davis in one of his favorite places, Glacier National Park. Credit: Mike Davis

Topic: Communications / Outreach Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Wildfire recovery Type: Interview

Safety and Service First: A Day in the Life with Mike Davis

Author: Mike Davis

Name tag for Mike Davis: Forest Fire Management Officer, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia. 30+ years w/ USDA Forest Service, 9 years working on FAC
What led you to work on community wildfire resilience?

I began working to promote Firewise programs and prevention activities as far back as 2008. Later, I read about the concept of fire adapted communities in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. In 2014 Frank Riley approached me about FAC Net after Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D Council had been selected as one of its original member organizations. It was obvious that this opportunity matched up with the types of things I wanted to participate in, and from there on I became more involved in local FAC work.

When you get to work on Monday morning, what are your top priorities for the week?

There will be several. There are numerous administrative functions to tackle (related to supervision, budget, email and phone requests, meetings, etc.). I then will monitor conditions across the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests and beyond in order to either meet prescribed fire or fire suppression support needs. Or, I might be planning FAC outreach activities with partners. Safety and risk management is always at the forefront of anything I’ll do during a given week. Service to our units and to the public are high priorities.

Who might you talk to?

On any given day, I’ll speak with nearly all of our District’s fire management officers (FMOs) or a variety of other cooperators and partners about operational planning. For example, we may discuss resource needs such as people, equipment and aircraft. I speak with Frank Riley almost daily, particularly these days after the unprecedented 2016 fall fire season. We’re seeing a new, and in some cases renewed, interest in FAC and are therefore discussing next steps for leveraging our lessons learned and investing in new areas. When it comes to the public, I may speak with them concerning almost anything. Those conversations range from wildfire career inquiries to event coordination.

By the end of the day, I have also spoken with personnel with the Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the state climatologist, district rangers, our fire staff officer, our assistant forest FMO and our forest supervisor.

FAC partners posing with a Firewise banner and an inflated Smokey Bear; Firewise is an important component of Southeast FAC efforts, like in most places.

Towns County Fire Station 0pen house (Mike is third from the left). Credit: USDA Forest Service

Tell us about a project that involves collaboration with partners.

On this particular day, I have multiple conference calls to discuss the ongoing drought conditions and how they relate to our prescribed fire program. In the state of Georgia, over 1 million acres are treated with prescribed fire annually. I want to hear of any concerns or potential issues that others may be observing in the field regarding the current drought conditions. By sharing information and communicating with one another early we can work together to mitigate risk.

What different types of shoes do you wear on the job?
Mike with a drip torch.

Mike working a prescribed fire. Credit: USDA Forest Service

I enjoy wearing cowboy boots. On the days I wear those, I’m usually performing administrative activities. Those days are typically fast-paced and involve a great deal of decision making, planning and multi-tasking. An upcoming decision involves selecting and purchasing equipment for mastication and mulching. One of our current planning projects is our Foothills Landscape Community Collaboration effort that aims to collaboratively address some of our local conservation challenges.

The pair of shoes that I wear in the field is leather boots. I’ve owned this particular pair for over 20 years, and I’ve had them rebuilt twice (they now fit like a glove). In those, I may be working on a prescribed fire project with one of our Ranger Districts. I could also be taking a look at one of our places affected by wildfires to see how things went. This week, I’ll wear them as I visit potential field trip locations for our upcoming Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network workshop. A big focus of that workshop will be lessons learned from the 2016 fires and next steps for advancing resilient landscapes and communities in our area.

Where else might your job take you?

Earlier this month, I instructed a Wilderness Resource Advisor course at the Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy. At yesterday’s White County FAC meeting, we further developed our strategy to build a citizens coalition, and made plans for May’s National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Collaborating with various people is one of the things I really enjoy. In the past week, I presented on the fall wildfire season and on our upcoming prescribed fire season at the Georgia Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network workshop and at the Department of Natural Resources partners meeting. Life is not dull.

When you get back to your desk, what unexpected thing has come up?

It could be a request from a partner. For example, today I have several questions that I need to answer for our friends at the Southern Research Station in Athens, as we are supporting a basic wildland firefighting course at the University of Georgia’s Warnell Forestry School. The course is this weekend and they need some recommendations regarding training certificates, help with the Incident Qualifications Certification System (IQCS) database and last-minute tips on conducting the work capacity test (e.g., the “pack test”).

Work is over; another long but fulfilling day behind you. What’s next?

Unfortunately, I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic. When I do have leisure time, I enjoy traveling, hiking, trout fishing, model railroading, watching old Westerns on television and spending time with my wife of 32 years, Alicia.

Another Monday rolls around but you’re not working (because you’ve retired!). Instead, you’re wrapping up your FAC memoir. What will your last sentences be?

I had the opportunity to meet and work with some outstanding people during the FAC-related portion of my career. They often taught me a lot more than I could share with them. I was pleased to be a part of this national effort and I can say that we helped make a difference.

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2 thoughts on “Safety and Service First: A Day in the Life with Mike Davis”

  1. Frank Riley Jr says:

    Mike, as you have told me many times… this is a BIG DEAL! This is a great article about Mike who has been the driving force behind our successful FAC work in Towns County, north Georgia, and now up the Appalachians from here to Virginia. Thanks Mike for all you do!
    Frank Riley

  2. Mike Ferguson says:

    Good read. Mike’s a good man, and a dedicated Forest Service employee.

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