PRESTONSBURG – Justin Colvin never thought about becoming a firefighter. The 21-year-old from Hager Hill never volunteered as a firefighter, but he has a love for the outdoors.
A seasonal job with the Department of Forestry landed him an opportunity to become a professional fire fighter.
He took the challenge – a challenge that took him more than 3,000 miles from home. For four months, Colvin, a 2014 Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) graduate, did battle with some of the biggest wildfires in Washington state history on the 20-person handcrew in the Ahtanum State Forest. Being a part of only one of two handcrews in the entire state as part of the state’s Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Professional Firefighters.
“It’s not uncommon for someone [in Washington] to be a professional fire fighter, but it is uncommon for someone from Eastern Kentucky to come out there and join their efforts,” he said. In many western states wildland firefighting is becoming a full time job due to drought conditions, extra dry vegetation, and frequent lighting. The fire season lasts longer and longer every year.
During fire season, Colvin and his crew would work a two weeks on two days off rotation – 16 hours each day – and would sleep on the ground at an incident command post (Fire Camp). He was part of a hand crew, which often gets sent to the more remote areas of the fire where most heavy equipment and fire engines cannot reach.
“I ran a chainsaw and would help clear brush to kill the fire,” he said. “We would do that by stripping everything down to the mineral soil.”
Colvin recently was hired by the Division of Fish and Wildlife in Floyd County as a Forest Management Technician on a nine-month contract.
What will he do with three months free time?
“I’m heading back to Washington,” he said, chuckling. “The Ahtanum handcrew has already invited me back to work again next season.”