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A forest stand on Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge after a wildfire. Photo by USFWS.

Service presents first annual fire safety award

In a formal ceremony on April 14, 2014, at its Southeast Region Office in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) presented its first annual National Fire Safety Award to Rocky Chesser, a long-time maintenance and equipment supervisor with fire qualifications at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Branch of Fire Management created the award to recognize outstanding leadership and service in wildland fire safety,” said John Segar, FWS Fire Director from the National Interagency Fire Center, who flew to Atlanta to present the award. “Rocky was chosen by an interagency panel for being key to ensuring a safe response to the 2011 Honey Prairie Fire.”

The 309,200-acre Honey Prairie Fire burned for nearly a year, from April, 2011 - April, 2012, affecting most of the 402,000-acre Okefenokee Refuge. At the peak of fire activity, there were 202 engines, 112 dozers, 20 water tenders, 12 helicopters, six crews, and a total of 1,458 personnel assigned. Over the duration of the fire, there were no fatalities or serious injuries, and firefighters were able to contain most of the fire inside the refuge.

“We are particularly proud of Rocky’s professionalism, leadership, and dedication to safe operations given the size and complexity of the Southeast’s fire program,” said Cindy Dohner, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region.  “He is known as the ‘voice of reason’ which is crucial when working with partners to tackle wildfires.”

“In addition to responding to wildfires, we need to conduct frequent burns on our refuges to help maintain the natural balance,” said Dohner.  “Rocky makes that happen with ‘Safety First’ as a guiding principle.”

The Safety Award evaluation panel of local, regional and national experts in fire operations and safety rated nominees from across the Service using a standardized scoring system. Among Chesser’s noted accomplishments were calm, consistent leadership supporting wildland fire operations during more than 30 years of service.

The Service wildland fire management program has maintained an exemplary safety record, with no deaths in the line of duty since 1981.  For more information about the award, contact Ted Mason at 208-387-5831, Theodore_Mason@fws.gov.

Contacts

Karen Miranda, USFWS
karen_miranda@fws.gov, 208-387-5891

Phil Kloer, USFWS
Philip_Kloer@fws.gov, 404-679-7299

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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