BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It didn’t take long for Quentin Schneider to end up on the front lines of a brush fire in Laramie Wyoming… or face to face with a rattlesnake.
Schneider, a 2020 graduate of Holy Trinity Catholic, signed up for an adventure this summer that sent him into the lines of the Wyoming fires for about two weeks.
Schneider had just finished his first year at Iowa Central College Fire Science program when a group presented the opportunity to go out west and work on the front lines of brush and timber fires during the summer.
Schneider said he thought the opportunity would be a great chance to learn more about firefighting and experience some front line work.
His father Mike is a Captain with the Fort Madison Fire Department.
“We had just gotten into Laramie and were headed to our hotel for the night. We were gonna go get something to eat when we got a call and were ordered up to the Poe Mountain Fire. There was about 300 acres burning and we had to go into night ops,” he said. “That was pretty cool and something not a lot of people experience.”
He said a lot of the guys he was working with were Missouri conservation workers and they had never done night ops either.
The workers went in and started digging along what is called the hot line where the fire has burned one side of a line, but the other hasn’t yet caught fire. The intent is to keep the fire contained to where it had already burned in hopes of reducing flames.
Schneider said the group was on site for about five hours until midnight, then camped at a school nearby.
The Poe Mountain Fire, about 30 miles north of Laramie is listed as under control as of Aug. 3, but started back on July 9. More than 276 acres burned
That was just one of the fires that Schneider’s team worked on, but he said it involved quite a bit of hiking with close to 45 pounds of gear in a pack.
“We hiked a good section up and down hills. Mostly we were walking the edge of the fire where it had previously burned and putting out hot spots making sure things didn’t pop back up.
Schneider’s team was then called into another fire about six miles east of Thermopolis at Middle Fork. That fire consumed about 76 acres, but was supressed in about five days. That fire started on July 14, and Schneider’s teams was one of the last to come in and do mop up work.
He said the first two seemed to be caused by lightning strikes. Despite relatively dry conditions a storm can spark up a blaze in the sage brush of the Wyoming hills. A rain shower that lasted about 10 minutes helped with work, but Schneider said it was so dry that the ground absorbed the water quickly and looked dry again in less than an hour.
A third fire broke out in the area and burned about 100 acres. Schneider said he heard that one may have started from an electrical spark at an oil field, and it was right down the road from the Middle Fork fire.
“We were stationed on the Middle Fork fire and we looked over the horizon and started to see the smoke rising up and then we get called to it,” Schneider said.
“We had to head down this dirt road about 45 minutes and that got a bit intense as we were told to hustle to down to that fire.”
Schneider said he was up close with Type 1 helicopters that were dropping water on some of the blazes.
“That gets pretty realistic. We weren’t in on the really big fires where the Hot Shots go in and battle in the blaze and encounter really big flames. The closest we got was the night ops.”
Getting certified for the trip was a bit of a test for Schneider. He had to put on a 45-pound vest and hike three miles in under 45 minutes to qualify for what he called DNR F130 and F190 certifications.
That training came in handy as much of the work involved hiking with full gear through the hills surrounding the fires. Some hiking was even through water.
One of the days, Schneider said he was second in the hike formation. The lead crewman stepped over what looked like a large stick near some water.
“Then I heard this rattling. I looked down, jumped back and yelled “Snake!,” he said. “The thing charged at me for just a moment and then veered off. It was right by my left leg. That woulda been a helicopter ride out.”
Schneider said after the incident the crew told him it’s always the second guy in line that gets bit.
“I’m was either really quick or really lucky.” he said.
Other cautions workers are on the look out for are bears and moose. Schneider said bears aren’t really a concern unless you stumble on cubs, but moose calves will charge you for no reason.
“I was told to really watch out for those – bears, not so much.”
Schneider will be finishing up his EMT training at SCC next year and got his Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certifications at Iowa Central, where he also ran track.
Despite the close calls with nature, he said he would like to go back and do it again. But for a career, Schneider seems to want to fall in his father’s footsteps and stick to the more structural part of firefighting and rescue work.
“It would be pretty cool to do a hot shot crew. They make pretty good money in the six months of firefighting season, but for the whole fire season it’s a pretty dangerous job – but I’d like to do it again next summer.”