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KANW is a member of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serves the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Our mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues across the Mountain West.From land and water management to growth in the expanding West to our unique culture and heritage, we'll explore the issues that define us and the challenges we face.

As fire seasons get longer, one crew tries an old idea to ease the burden

The Baker River Hotshots in May
Baker River Hotshots Instagram page
The Baker River Hotshots in May

Wildfire seasons are famously long, especially for Hotshot crews, who often do the most arduous work on the fireline. Now, some are experimenting with ways to ease the burden on members and their families.

The Baker River Hotshots are a Forest Service crew that’s based in Northwest Washington and fights fires across our region. In recent years, they’ve had as many as 1,200 hours of overtime during the fire season. With the blessing of agency higher-ups, they tried something new this year.

“As our fire seasons get longer and the agency demands more of our time while talking about work life balance, we decided to try taking a week off,” said Crew Supervisor Gary Chicks.

During the July break, Chicks went to Hawaii. Others went fishing, and even to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

In an Instagram post, one member said “it meant a lot to have this time off just to reconnect and feel like a normal person during the summertime.”

“I think having that planned time with your loved ones instead of a little bit here, three, four days there at random,” Chicks said. “With that planned time, I think people came back with a lot better attitudes after that time period, which was really right before the peak of our season began.”

He said they’ll be sticking with the policy for the “foreseeable future.”

In a recent federal review of the hotshot program, crew members identified the inability to take time off and family separation as the most challenging issues after low pay.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Hey everyone! I’m Murphy Woodhouse, Boise State Public Radio’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter.