Smokey Bear

I’m grateful for the education I received in the summer of 1968, when I surveyed and fought fires in the Okanogan National Forest.


It’s been a dry summer, but we finally got some rain, along with lots of thunder and lightening. The lightening reminded of a summer many years ago.

I graduated from high school in 1968. Before I went away to college, I worked all summer as a surveyor and firefighter in the Okanogan National Forest. Every day our four-man crew would hike deep into the mountains. As one of the young guys, I did a lot of the heavy work, like clearing brush and cutting down trees with a chainsaw.

Even with all the hard work, it was a great job. I liked my coworkers, and we got to see a lot of wildlife every day. Of course, every fawn was Bambi and every bear was Smokey Bear.

Lightening sometimes hit trees in the forest, causing wildfires. Surveyors and other outdoor workers with proper training were always on standby to help the full-time firefighters. When we got called, we’d hurry to the Tonasket Ranger District Headquarters and join firefighting crews.

Firefighting was extremely dangerous, but we had good training and good leaders. We were paid really well. I got my normal salary, plus overtime, plus hazard pay. It was a huge salary for an 18-year-old farm boy, but I earned every penny of it. I learned a lot, too. Older men taught me how to read a fire, how to act decisively, and how to communicate clearly for everyone’s safety. Also, I learned that heroic actions are nothing special. When someone saves your life, you just say “Thanks!” and get back to work.

I’m really grateful for my education in the Okanogan National Forest. When I started college after that hard summer of ’68, I wasn’t afraid of anything, and I still like Smokey Bear.

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