As a Hispanic Access RA Fellow for the Angeles National Forest, I work in the public affairs department where you can find me updating our Facebook and Twitter pages, designing recreation guides with our cartographer, or sometimes you can catch me out in the field trying to find my next story.
My first few months in the Angeles consisted of me throwing on some PPE (personal protective equipment) and heading off into different locations in the forest to document prescribed fires. From that footage, the public affairs team and I produced educational videos highlighting the reasons why prescribed fires benefit natural resources and how they reduce the risk of unwanted wildfires in the future.
One of the highlights of my fellowship has been the hands-on training I have received on wildland firefighting, incident management, and radio communication. Combined, I have spent almost over a month in training alone which has challenged me both mentally and physically. During my wildland firefighting course, I learned all about fire behavior, memorized the watch out situations, and spent a few days out in the forest with firefighters. I participated in fire pack drills, arduous hikes, cut fire line, and sharpened my tools among other tasks. To complete my training, I also took the arduous work capacity test, commonly named as the “pack test”, which involves walking three miles in no more than 45 minutes while carrying 45 pounds of weight. The work was exhausting for someone like me who doesn’t do PT (physical training) everyday, but nonetheless, it gave me a better understanding of the topics often discussed during fire season and I gained much more respect for wildland firefighters and the work they do.
During my incident management course, I listened to public information officers from different agencies explain their approaches and experiences managing fire incidents. We covered topics such as media interviewing techniques, writing press releases, and managing social media to name a few. The class participated in stimulated activities where we conducted interviews, set up a call centers, monitored the radio and everything else you would expect during a real fire. As public information officers we needed to know how to respond to each scenario thrown at us. Some scenarios included knowing how to respond to unverified information, dealing with emotional citizens, coopering with other agencies and the press. Although it was a stimulated activity all the scenarios were based on real issues which have occurred in the past.
As summer begins, fire season is upon us and I feel much more confident and ready to respond as public information officer. Last year alone, there were 141 forest fires on the Angeles National Forest. Evidence of this can be seen from last year’s December wildfires in Southern California. As a bilingual Latina, I’m looking forward to being as much help as I can be to my community. I recognize the need for bilingual public information officers to better reach Spanish-speaking communities during serious fire incidents.
In the meantime, I’ll stay plenty busy creating content for our social media, creating useful recreation guides for the public, and planning a program for Latino Conservation Week here on the Angeles. Stay tuned!
By Keila Vizcarra, intern, Angeles National Forest