MINNESOTA – Angela Schmitt, Senior Firefighter on the Deer River District of the Chippewa National Forest, recently completed an assignment as a mentor for the Women in Wildfire program on the Cibola National Forest. Schmitt was the first employee from the Chippewa National Forest to be a part of this program.
From different experiences throughout her career, Angela learned the importance of developing an organization with a wealth of diverse experience. Her passion for developing women in fire inspired her to be part of the WIWF, a program model focused on the recruitment and advancement of women in wildland fire.
The effort is a continuing part of Region 3’s WIWF program. Many of the previous participants have found jobs within the region as fire crew members and many others that are interested in working for the Forest Service between hiring cycles. The intent of the on-call crew is to enable these crewmembers to gain fire line experience.
On her 14-day assignment Schmitt served as a mentor for the crew of 16 women and four men. In one of her positions on the crew she served as a sawyer and pulled a first-year crew member in as her mentee and swamper; teaching her the importance of trusting and creating a bond between sawyer and swamper. They were together throughout the assignment; the first-year firefighter assisting Schmitt and learning from her.
“Bonding, learning and understanding the importance of making connections early on is so important when working together as a team on a fire,” said Schmitt. “My mentee quickly learned about my blood bubble (Blood bubble is the danger zone where the nose of the sawyer’s bar can reach in any direction) and to learn to read each other’s eyes and expressions.”
Schmitt said she also wanted personal growth in this process: to learn more about herself and to work on her leadership and people skills. She felt the WIWF program provided the mentors with training and leadership development opportunities.
“I have already heard from my mentee since I returned home,” stated Schmitt. “It’s about building relationships and how we can help each other in the future from applying for jobs to supporting one another. We want to help anyway we can.”
Schmitt is back from her assignment and two other Chippewa National Forest employees are now part of the WIWF crew; Lynzi Daly from the Blackduck District and Tim Wolter from the Walker District.
“It is a great program that needs a little more structure and knowledge sharing, but the program will continue to improve with time and with each crew,” stated Schmitt.
Roughly 10 percent of permanent wildfire positions are currently filled by women; for seasonal firefighters, the number is somewhat higher. However, the number of women coming into the wildland firefighting organization is growing. These women not only fight fire on the Chippewa National Forest but all-around the nation.