The Montana Conservation Corps’ Women’s Fire Crew has returned home after 14 days working on assignment in Alaska.
The 2019 crew is comprised of seven members and two crew leaders. The crew worked to support the BLM through fire suppression, preparing the area from oncoming fire and slowing the progression of the flames.
"We were out on 337 Fire, or the Hadweenzic River, which became a part of the Cornucopia Complex thirty miles west of Fort Yukon, Alaska," said crew leader Shelby Descamps.
The Women’s Fire Crew was created in 2017 as a partnership between the Montana Conservation Corps and the Bureau of Land Management.
"The BLM, or the Bureau of Land Management decided that they had been having several challenges with engaging women in wildland firefighting," said Chris Nesset, Regional Director at the Montana Conservation Corps. "Some of that average percentage rates were around ten percent of all wildland firefighters are women, if not less."
Today, the Women’s Fire Crew provides training opportunities for fuel reduction projects and habitat restoration.
While the crew works out of Montana, training, which consists of heavy chainsaw use and prescribed burns, primarily takes place on BLM land in Wyoming.
The Women’s Fire Crew provides a unique opportunity for women to experiment and break into their careers in wildland firefighting.
The program addresses the gender disparity in wildland firefighting and provides women with the training they need to enter the field confidently.
"They’re probably going to be at a higher level than most of the other members of that crew because they have that background," said Nesset. "And with that comes a sense of confidence and ability to be able to speak to what they’re doing and move forward, and hopefully in our eyes take on a greater leadership role."
Many previous crew members have made a career out of wildland firefighting.
Those who do not pursue wildland firefighting as a career still find the experience rewarding.
"This type of work is super empowering," said Descamps. "I got chainsaw trained three years ago and running a big power tool, which is pretty cool when you’ve been told when you’re younger that you can’t even run the lawnmower."
You can read more about the Montana Conservation Corps’ Women’s Fire Crew here.