According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania's forest area covers approximately 58 percent of the Commonwealth's land area, totaling around 16.8 million acres. With this vast amount of forest area, there is always a chance for forest fires. In 2020, Pennsylvania recorded over 1,500 forest fires, which is a 20-year high. These forest fires burned over 3,000 acres of forest, killed two people, injured 12, and destroyed 17 structures.
To fight these forest fires, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) teams with volunteer forest fire associations throughout the state. Jason Barrett, a Highway Draftsman Designer for PennDOT's Engineering District 3, is one of these volunteer forest firefighters.
Since 2001, Jason has volunteered with the Tiadaghton Forest Fire Fighters Association (TFFFA) and in April of 2017, he became a Pennsylvania Forest Fire Warden.
To become certified as a volunteer forest fire fighter, one must take a minimum of 56 hours of classroom training and 4 hours of live fire training. Each year volunteers are required to take an 8-hour refresher training course and pass a physical fitness test of walking 2 miles with a 25-pound backpack or weighted vest in 30-minutes without running. Most of the training is provided and paid for by DCNR. Over Jason's 20-years of service, he has logged over 800 hours of training.
Since 2001, Jason has responded to numerous forest fires throughout the Commonwealth. During the fire season, he is likely to carry his fire equipment with him in the event of a call. This equipment can cost thousands to maintain. As a fire warden, Jason is likely to also carry additional equipment such as radios, hand tools, chain saws, leaf blowers, and additional personal protective equipment.
"I have a lot of memories over the past 20-years. The memory that stands out the most was a night spent at the narrows in Cedar Run (Brown Township, Lycoming County)," Jason said. "The forest fire was burning so hot that the rocks on the side of the mountain would roll down onto Route 414 and melt through the asphalt. It was like something you would have seen in a movie and something I will never forget."
Jason began volunteering with TFFFA after his father-in-law (who has been a volunteer for 55 years and a warden for 30) asked him to take the forest firefighter training. He would like to remind everyone that forest fires are something everyone can prevent. DCNR reported that 99.5 percent of the forest fires in 2020 were caused by humans.
A seven-year employee with PennDOT, we would like to thank Jason and all first responders for your service.
Fires aren't the only danger our first responders face. Do your part to protect them on the road, too. Review Pennsylvania's Move Over Law and always use caution when driving near an emergency scene.