Hoosier National Forest assists with national disasters

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Cory Henry
Guest Columnist

Employees from the Hoosier National Forest assist in suppressing wildfires not only here in Indiana but across the entire country, from the well-known large wildfires in the western United States to lesser known wildfires in the east.

What many people may not know is that these same personnel often respond to other natural and man-made disasters across the country  through local, national and Federal Emergency Management Agency requests to assist local responders and municipalities.  

Many of the trainings, courses and qualifications required for wildfire suppression lend themselves to other disasters. This, coupled with the ability to quickly mobilize a large number of trained personnel makes Forest Service personnel well-suited for disaster relief.   

Throughout my career with the federal government, I have responded to a number of different types of disasters, including wildfires, the space shuttle Columbia recovery, the Gulf Oil Spill cleanup, Hurricane Katrina relief and numerous tornado cleanup efforts.  Other disasters that forest personnel have responded to include the Twin Tower disaster in New York City and Super Storm Sandy relief.  Forest Service personnel possess a wide variety of skills and expertise for disaster-relief efforts.

When mobilized for disasters, I have worked in various capacities. I’ve served as a technical specialist during the Gulf Oil Spill disaster to help identify affected areas,  worked with crews to ensure proper protocol was followed and trained others on safe ATV use in urban areas. I’ve also acted as a liaison for local fire departments during tornado disaster relief efforts to ensure that the local responders had all of the equipment they needed.  

Other personnel from the Hoosier National Forest have assisted in national disasters as law-enforcement officers, archeologists, finance and logistical support, safety officers, environmental specialists and in many other capacities.

When personnel respond to these disasters, they may be away from their families and work stations for up to three weeks, living and working in conditions that are far from ideal.  Many times, crews are camping with up to 2000 other people, using outhouses and eating from catering trucks.  

Due to the nature of disasters, many of the amenities that we are used to, such as drinking water and electricity, have been disrupted and are not available. These goods must be shipped in for responders and residents, making logistics one of the most important aspects.  That fact, coupled with attempts to help people and animals that have been displaced, can lead to some very trying assignments.

Families of these responders are left at home to cope with running households and bearing the burden of their spouses being away on assignments.

While on assignment, forest personnel offer up their expertise while working with local responders who impart their local knowledge, making for a great partnership. This, as well as working with other federal employees, are the best parts of the assignments.

Hoosier National Forest personnel continue to respond to disasters throughout the country, leaving with short notice to help wherever they are needed on a multitude of natural disasters. 

Henry is an engine captain for the Hoosier National Forest.