Conn. Firefighters Return Home From Fighting Wildfire in Mont. | NECN

Conn. Firefighters Return Home From Fighting Wildfire in Mont.



    Fire crews say federal budget cuts have impacted their work (Published Friday, Feb. 21, 2014)

    (NECN: Brian Burnell, Marlborough, Conn.) - Kristen Wiggins had a big hug and kiss for her husband, Justin. He's a wildland firefighter with the Conn. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection just back from 16 days fighting the fires in Montana's Lolo Creek Complex.  

    The 20-man team's job was to respond to new fires as they sparked, usually due to a lightning strike.

    "We were the first ones digging lines. There were flames going everywhere, trees were torching. It was pretty wild," Justin says.

    Back home Kristen waited, worried and depended on Justin's text messages.

    "It was just quick things like, 'Hey, I'm good. Going on a fire. Won't be able to text or call for a day or so but I'll let you know when I'm back,'" she says.

    The Connecticut crew did their job well, knocking down every fire they were sent to before it got out of control, working long, hard hours.

    Mark Blazejack is a 25-year veteran and the Conn. DEEP Fire Crew Boss.

    "You're out in deep wilderness in steep, steep terrain and we have to go out at night to chase some of these fires and we stay on these fires for two, three, four days," he says.

    We've heard a lot about the federal budget cuts, the sequester, over the last few months and a lot of people say, 'I don't see it. I don't see the affects.' These guys do.

    One estimate says western crews are down 500 firefighters and 50 engines because of budget cuts. The idea in fighting wildfires is catch them when they’re small and stamp them out.

    To do that Rich Schenk of the Conn. DEEP points out, "You need the people on the ground waiting to go for the assignment. You need air resources. You need the equipment, the trucks, the basic tools of firefighting."

    And you need to money to pay for it.