Green Mountain employees assist with vaccination efforts 

Before any Forest Service personnel can accept a position assisting in a wildfire or emergency response, they’re trained beyond their usual job duties. The training focuses not only on wildfire, but on hazard response as a whole. Making agency employees uniquely qualified to assist in unexpected emergencies that most of us would never have seen coming just a few short years ago.

Today, more than 250 Forest Service employees are assisting with Covid-19 vaccinations across the United States. Much like wildfire response, personnel come from forests all across the country and go wherever they are needed. Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forests staff are no exception. Here are some of the stories from your friends and neighbors and public servants who utilized their skills at mass vaccination sites this year.

David DiSanto, Assistant Fire Management Officer, Manchester District

DiSanto worked long days during a two-week assignment for FEMA region 2; primarily for the cities of Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo in New York.

Seeing an opportunity to lead, to help communities in need, and to build on his skills, DiSanto stepped up as an Emergency Service Function Leader. He worked largely on getting vaccinators and getting them to the sites that needed them.

DiSanto said the skills he’s honed from being on other disaster response teams were certainly transferrable. The biggest difference for him was actually being in a different position that required a lot more organizing and interaction with agencies that he was not used to working with including the Department of Human Services, NYS Department of health, and NYS Department of Homeland Security. He says they all worked together well to get the job done.

“The biggest asset there to me was the AmeriCorps crew. There were two young ladies that led a 20 person crew,” DiSanto said. “They lined their crew out with the toughest tasks of registering the public and guiding the cars to be parked; to flow in two lines to the vaccinators. All while sanitizing the equipment and chairs and anything the public came into contact with. There were some glitches at the beginning as with any new project and they stepped up to be sure the project was safe and didn’t fail.”

Gregory “Lewie” Zimmerman, Forestry Technician, Manchester District

A toy stuffed dog gets and empty shot.

“Husky dog,” the pet pooch of Zimmerman’s 9-year-old daughter accompanied him to Delaware to assist in the vaccination effort. Courtesy photo by Lewie Zimmerman.

Zimmerman worked long hours during an eight day assignment at the mass vaccination site at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware.

An honest man, Zimmerman says he went to earn overtime hours supporting a worthwhile cause. In just a few days, he realized what an interesting opportunity the assignment was and says it felt like he was “sort of participating in a historical event.”

Zimmerman believes the agency’s ability to mobilize resources efficiently, as well as their reputation for being effective team players puts FS personnel in demand to work vaccination sites with other emergency responders. “Our firefighting training is crucial to any emergency response incident,” Zimmerman said. “In general, the USFS fire program teaches ‘situational awareness’ above all else. Along with standard safety protocols and basic communication skills.”

The Dover site was a great success and used as a model for other sites. Recipients who had to wait 4-5 hours for their first doses were much happier with the shorter, 20-30-minute wait times this time around. So happy in fact, many came with baked goods for the crew!