Sarah Castaneda, Hot Shot Crewmember, U.S. Forest Service
As a combat medic for the U.S. Army, Sarah Castaneda enjoyed the structure and direction of the military. Now, working on a fire crew as an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, Sarah finds similarities that make her appreciate her experience as a military service member.
“There’s a certain structure with fire services that gives me a direction to go,” she says.
But it was Sarah’s training with conservation corps that landed her a job in firefighting. “The corps opened that door for me, provided initial training, and introduced me to people who could help me get into the fire community.”
Sarah got involved with wildland fire mitigation and outdoor conservation work when she joined the Veterans Green Jobs/Southwest Conservation Corps outdoor conservation crew in 2010. Working in several areas of the Four Corners region, she gained valuable skills and hands-on training in wildland firefighting, earned her S130/S190 fire certifications and took the SD12 wildland fire chainsaw class.
Under the guidance of Shawna LeGarza of the Bureau of Land Management’s San Juan Public Lands Office, Sarah did fuels reduction work and in the winter burned slash piles. Sarah also made important connections with U.S. Forest Service personnel.
Through her connections, Sarah was detailed for one month with the San Juan Hot Shots. Hot Shots are interagency fire crews that are considered an elite group among wildland firefighters. Requiring extensive training, high physical endurance and an ability to undertake difficult assignments, Hot Shot crews can respond to wildland fire incidents in any U.S. jurisdiction.
“I like being outside, doing labor and working with others – and it keeps me out of trouble,” Sarah says.
Helping people and the environment are important aspects of the work. “There were a lot of fires this year in the wildland/urban interface that were close to structures, houses and people’s private land. Once you’re done with a project like that, there’s a feeling of self accomplishment.”
While Sarah is considering returning to college for a degree in fire science, she is content for now working for the U.S. Forest Service, and wants to make a living out of it. “I’ll do this until my body breaks down and I can’t do it anymore.”