Huron-Manistee National Forests Fire Chief recognized as Unsung Hero

Three people, a woman an two men, posing after presenting/receiving an award.
Chris Peterson (center) receives the USDA Unsung Hero Award from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky and Forest Service Acting Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry Patti Hirami. USDA Forest Service photo.

MICHIGAN – The Organization of Professional Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected Huron-Manistee National Forests Fire Staff Officer Chris Peterson for the 2019 Unsung Hero Award. The award is presented annually to select USDA employees who have demonstrated momentous leadership, immediate action and courageous behavior in the course of their duties.

For more than 30 years, Peterson has played a leading role in the prevention and mitigation of wildfires in northern Michigan’s high-complexity forests. He began his career as a firefighter for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1986 and later transitioned to the USDA Forest Service, where he has served as an Engine Captain, Fire Management Officer and even as the Acting Deputy Regional Fire Director for the Eastern Region.

Since his appointment as Fire Staff Officer, Peterson has turned the Huron-Manistee National Forests into a model for wildfire management and community interface. His teams respond to more than 150 fires annually and regularly exceed their hazardous fuels targets by 30 percent or more. Hazardous fuels treatments protect communities by reducing the amount of leaves, needles, and other materials that can generate high-intensity wildfires.

Peterson understands that wildfire knows no bounds, which is why he has dedicated his career to building partnerships inside and outside of the Forest Service. He has served as Chair of the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council, Director of the Northern Michigan Fire Chiefs Association, and representative to the National Fire Equipment Committee. Moreover, he has worked with county governments to develop nationally-recognized community wildfire protection plans.

Wildfire management is not Peterson’s only area of expertise. He also serves as the Forest Service Eastern Region Emergency Medical Services Coordinator and has been instrumental to developing the agency’s nationwide EMS program. Moreover, he dedicates his nights and weekends to the volunteer EMS team in Marion, Michigan.

“The relationships that Chris has built with partners throughout Northern Michigan, as well as his contributions to the community of Marion, truly make him one of our unsung heroes,” said Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor Leslie Auriemmo. “His dedication is surpassed by none, and he is well deserving of this award.”

Peterson executes his duties with an eye toward the future. He regularly trains federal, state and local officials in wildfire operations and firefighter safety. Moreover, he has partnered with the Wexford-Missaukee Career Technical Center in Cadillac, Michigan to help high school students obtain wildland firefighting certification. These efforts are integral to developing the next generation of wildland firefighters and to the future safety of northern Michigan communities.