The N.C. Forest Service helps individuals across the state with many things throughout the year, including forest and wildfire management. Not only do they help people within our state, but many employees are also dispatched to other states affected by wildfires, like Texas and Montana. We talked with five forest service employees who recently came back from dispatch missions on their experience and what they learned.
David Greathouse, Assistant Director of the BRIDGE Program, Region 3.
David began his career in forestry as a correctional officer and project leader for the BRIDGE program. “I realized how much I loved the forestry and fire aspect of the job in that position,” David said, “and from there I moved on to become a forest technician.” Most recently, David was dispatched in Oregon helping with the Rough Patch Complex. Throughout his trip, David worked as a fire behavior analyst where he was responsible for collecting weather data, developing strategic and tactical fire behavior information, predicting fire growth and interpreting fire characteristics for use by incident overhead.
Although working long hours was difficult on dispatch because employees typically work 16-hour days, David really enjoyed getting to work with a variety of people from all over the country and seeing things he had never seen before. “When you are working with people from all over the country, professionalism, cooperation and patience are musts,” he said, “although I miss my family and my bed, it has been an honor to be a part of this dispatch mission.”
In the future, David will continue to grow and learn as the assistant camp director of the BRIDGE program as well as a fire behavior analyst and help on dispatch missions where he can. When he is not working with the forest service, you can find him at Rendevous Mountain. “It is a beautiful forest,” he said, “it’s never crowded and it has great views so I highly recommend a visit!”
Pamela Alston, Office Manager in Region 2, District 11
Pamela’s career in forestry started in 2013 when she applied for a position with the Hillsborough district office. “At that point, I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance at getting this job but here I am,” she said. “I’ll be honest, growing up, I had never heard of the N.C. Forest Service but I always knew who Smokey Bear was. I feel honored to be working for Smokey Bear!” She has been on many dispatch missions throughout her time with the forest service, including Lake Lure, Texas, Montana, Oregon and Arizona. She is also a member of the N.C. Forest Service’s incident management team, aka the N.C. Green Team.
Most recently, Pamela returned from a dispatch in Washington where she was working as Cost Unit Leader, Time Unit Leader and Equipment Time Recorder. She was responsible for a variety of tasks through these roles, including collecting all cost data, performing cost-effectiveness analyzes, supervising the Personnel Time Recorder and reporting it to the Finance Section Chief and more! “I enjoy these dispatch trips because I get to meet and work with a variety of different people,” Pamela said. “The most important thing I have learned on dispatch is to pay attention to detail and not allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Sometimes you have to step away, reevaluate and come back, and that’s okay, as long as you work together as a team to get the job done.”
Pamela plans to retire in 2023 with 30 years under her belt, but she will always continue to visit our state forests and Jordan Lake with her friends and family!
Connor Howard, County Ranger for Mecklenburg/Cabarrus County
Connor grew up with a love for being outdoors that eventually led to his career in the N.C. Forest Service. “I went to college at Western Carolina University where I obtained a degree in natural resource management with a concentration in forestry,” he said, “and when I graduated I knew that I wanted to continue pursuing my love and passion for forestry, which is how I ended up at the N.C. Forest Service.” Now working in region 3, district 12, Connor has been on several dispatch missions, including his latest one to Washington State.
In Washington State, Connor and his team were not only responsible for responding to the initial fire attack, but also assisting with the Windy Pass Fire and the Schneider Springs Fire. “I had never been on a dispatch to the West Coast until this trip to Washington State,” he said, “but I really enjoyed the opportunity it gave me to work with different people from our state and beyond, learning from them and building connections with them.” On this mission, Connor was responsible for leading a single fire engine, Type 4, and the attached personnel, meaning that he was responsible for the crew’s safety on wildland and fire incidents. Although being away from his family for an extended period of time was difficult, Connor wouldn’t trade anything for the lessons he learned along the way. “Most importantly I learned how crucial communication is,” he said, “especially during a crisis, it is essential to communicate well with every member of your team to get the job done efficiently and effectively.”
In the future, Connor plans to continue learning about urban and traditional forestry as well as participating in the wildland fire world. When he is not working, you can find Connor and his family at Headwaters State Forest enjoying the beauty of our state.
Hannah Thompson-Welch, Wildfire Mitigation Forester at Griffiths Forestry Center in Region 2.
Growing up, Hannah was always outside with her friends and family, hiking, camping, foraging and more, which led to her love for forestry. “I have always loved being outside and participating in outdoor activities so this job has been a great fit for me,” Hannah said. Although she has been involved in dispatch operations for many years, her most recent missions have taken a different approach as she has been virtual.
Hannah has recently taken on two virtual assignments, one assisting with the Bootleg Fire in Oregon in late July-early August and the other assisting with the Monument Fire in California in mid-August. Although she assisted these missions virtually, Hannah held a lot of responsibility in her position as Public Information Officer. “In this role I was a storyteller,” Hannah said, “I posted photos and maps to the incident webpage on the Incident Information System platform, posted daily on social media, maintained good communications with members of the team and external seekers of information, monitored social media and alerted my coworkers to potential rumors and questions that needed attention.” Although the stress is challenging in crisis situations, Hannah really enjoys interacting with her team members and supporting them in a virtual manner. “I am fascinated by human dynamics, so supporting the team through the various stages of group development through high-tempo, rapidly changing, dynamic fire assignment is my favorite part,” she said.
As she continues in her forestry career, Hannah hopes to continue reaching her career goals of leadership in forestry and educating the public on the importance of the industry and those involved. When she isn’t working, you can find Hannah enjoying the beauty of all our state forests. “I love each of them because they all have something that is unique,” she said. “We made history in a few of them, either as individuals or as a training group. If those trees could talk, they could tell you some of our stories, but I think we can trust the trees to keep them safe. The memories of coworkers present and past make those forests alive in my mind.”
Kenny Griffin, District Ranger for Region 2, District 11
A career in forestry has always been the dream for Kenny. “I have always liked being outdoors and a career in forestry seemed like a good fit,” he said. Working in region 2, district 11 has given Kenny a lot of experience on dispatch missions. In fact, he has been going on dispatch missions since he first started with the forest service in 2000. Most recently, the job has taken him to Southwest Montana, where he helped manage multiple fires.
The Alder Creek Fire, Trail Creek Fire, Christensen Fire and Black Mountain Fire were all fires that Kenny and his team were familiar and assisting with on their mission to Southwest Montana. As a Operations Section Chief, Kenny was responsible for managing incident operations, establishing and directing branches, divisions, groups and units as necessary to support operations and leading development and execution of tasks. “I really enjoyed working with the other team members on this assignment because they have a lot of experience managing incidents and they know what they are doing,” he said. Although this mission presented several challenges, Kenny was proud to be a part of the team that helped make a difference. “The most important lesson that I learned was to get more familiar with the importance of what we are protecting,” he said, “a lot of times we aren’t just protecting personal property, trees, grass and other natural resources, but we are protecting sacred ground.” As long as Kenny works for the N.C. Forest Service, he will continue to help where needed and leave an impact on the industry.
As you can see, the N.C. Forest Service works hard every day to not only help citizens of our state with forest management and preservation, but also surrounding states battling intense wildfires. These are just a few stories of employees who put their personal lives aside to answer the call of the industry, but there are countless others who stand beside them to fulfill the same mission. We are thankful for all of those who continue to serve our state’s forest industry and proud of the work that they do every day!