Meade County FireWise Program   
"Hire a Veteran Initiative"
Funded by the Bureau of Land Management 
"Hire a Veteran, train a Veteran, and you will help a Veteran transition back into civilian society"
Veterans Looking for Career Opportunities  "Estimated to be over 850,000 unemployed Veterans in the US" 

The Meade County / Bureau of Land Management "Veteran in the Woods" intiative has been in operation for over a year.  A total of nine veterans have been employed under this program with five of them successfully transitioned into full-time employment and one into college via veteran benefits. 

While employed under this program,  the veterans are afforded multiple opportunities to train in wildland fire skills - in addition to their respective career fields of interest.  Focused efforts find them educated on resume writing and career interview techniques.  Additionally, they are given one on one time with veteran service resources to ensure they are fully educated on all veteran programs; to include funding/employment opportunities. 

Over the past year, the Veteran Firewise program has treated (FireWise) 22 private properties.  These residential  properties have benefited from tree thinning and fuel reductions to resist the threat from wildfire.  

Well received by the community; FireWise projects continue to be coordinated with Meade County residents.  There is a landowner cost share of 20% which assists in funding the program.  

The Meade County FireWise program is funded, assisted and guided by Travis Lipp, Fire Management Specialist out of the Belle Fourche, SD - BLM Field Office. 

Meade County and the BLM 
Partner on Veteran Initiative 

Meade County's "Veteran in the Woods" initiative is funded by the BLM and falls  under Meade County's current Firewise program. The primary goal of this Community Wildfire Protection effort is to reduce the risk from wildfire to life, property, and critical infrastructure.


Veterans are hired and trained to facilitate this effort by working with private landowners on the education and implementation of fire/fuel mitigation efforts. The primary scope of work finds veterans being trained on cutting, thinning, and removing trees on private land.


Veterans are also trained on other job skills with the end goal seeing them find full-time employment in a career field of their choice. 

BLM Officials Onsite Visit with Veterans 




Travis Ugland - Veteran  

Meade County Fire Mitigation Coordinator 




Mark Schild - Veteran 
Meade County Fire Mitigation Specialist

New Hire March 2014


Jake Ford - Veteran 
Meade County Fire Mitigation Specialist

New Hire January 2014

Program Graduate

Veteran - Aaron Thomas  joined the Firewise Program in August of 2013.  Aaron successfully found full-time employment in March 2014.
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded Aaron the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Good luck on your new endeavors and thanks for your service! 

Program Graduate

Veteran - Keith Bryan  joined the Firewise Program in July of 2013.  Keith successfully found full-time employment in February 2014. 
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded Keith the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Good luck on your new endeavors and thanks for your service! 

Program Graduate

Veteran - Keith Weyrich  joined the Firewise Program in June of 2013.  Keith successfully found full-time employment in October 2014. 
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded Keith the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Program Graduate

Veteran - James Adams  joined the Firewise Program in January of 2013.  James successfully enrolled in college in August 2013. 
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded James the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Program Graduate

Veteran - Shawn Dempsey  joined the Firewise Program in January of 2013.  Shawn successfully found full-time employment in April 2013 as a Meade County Deputy Sheriff. 
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded Shawn the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Dan Campbell
Program Graduate

Veteran - Daniel Campbell  joined the Firewise Program in December of 2012.  Dan successfully found full-time employment in April 2013.
The BLM funded "Veteran Initiative"  afforded Dan the opportunity to support himself - while gaining skills and training to assist him with his career goals.

Tree Falling Video
VETS At Work 

The primary goal of this Community Wildfire Protection Plan is to reduce the risk from wildfire to life, property, and critical infrastructure. The Wildland Urban-Interface, (WUI), is a set of conditions that exist when man-made fuels (e.g. structures and other human development) meets or intermingles with natural vegetative fuels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Interior identified a list of communities at risk from wildfire and placed them in the Federal Register. Communities are located in the WUI and are in the vicinity of federal lands and have been identified as being at high risk from wildfire.

Firewood stack - good utilization of downed timber

Demonstrating  safe work practices. We are in fact injury free!  
Meade County recognized as a Patriotic Employer

The South Dakota Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve recognized Meade County  as a patriotic employer for his outstanding support of his employee's military participation.


Jerry Derr, Meade County Commission Assistant and Human Resources, was recognized as a Patriotic Employer for contributing to national security and protecting liberty and freedom by supporting his employee, Specialist Aaron Thomas, participation in America's National Guard and Reserve Force. Thomas is part of the 211th Engineering Unit and has been with the Guard since 2001.


A Statement of Support was signed by Meade County and Fort Meade officials. 

The Statement of Support states the employer:


Fully recognizes, honors and enforces the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).


Managers and supervisors will have the tools they need to effectively manage     those employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.


Appreciates the values, leadership and unique skills service members bring to the workforce and will encourage opportunities to hire Guardsmen, Reservists, and Veterans.


Will continually recognize and support our country's service members and their families in peace, in crisis, and in war.


ESGR is a Department of Defense agency that seeks to promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees. They recognize outstanding support, increased awareness of the law and resolve conflicts through mediation.

Benefits of Hiring a Veteran  




The military trains people to accept and discharge responsibility for other people, for activities, for resources and for one's own behavior. This training includes setting an example, giving carefully considered direction, inspiring leadership capabilities in others and continually motivating others.


Ability to Work as a Team Member and as a Team Leader


Almost all military activity is performed with the assistance, coordination and awareness of other persons or other units. Many military personnel serve as team leaders where they have analyzed situations and options, made appropriate decisions, given directions, followed through with a viable plan and accepted responsibility for the outcome.


Ability to Work under Pressure and Meet Deadlines


One characteristic of military service is that service members must perform. They must do their job, do it right the first time and do it in a timely manner. They are continuously setting priorities, meeting schedules and accomplishing their missions.


Ability to Give and Follow Direction


Service members know how to work under supervision and can relate and respond favorably to others. They understand accountability for their actions and for their subordinates' actions. They have learned to respect and accept legitimate authority.




With an honorable discharge, service members are basically certified drug-free.


Security Clearances


Many military personnel have achieved some level of security clearance. This clearance can, at least, demonstrate that an individual is recognized as a trustworthy person.


Planning and Organization


Most military operations require thorough planning and workload management. Carefully considered objectives, strengths and limitations of other people, resources, time schedules, supplies, logistics and various other factors are always considered.


Emphasis on Safety


Service members understand the considerable cost in lives, property and objectives when safety is ignored. Both the control and the emphasis on safety are valued in the civilian work force.


Flexibility and Adaptability


Service members have learned to be flexible and can adapt to meet the constantly changing needs of any situation and mission.




Most service members have at least a General Education Development (GED) and the majority of them have high school diplomas. Nearly 30 percent have a college degree; and many have attended college to further their education.


VOW to Hire Heroes Act 2011




A safe year with no INJURIES 

Meade County Firewise
March 2014
Meade County, SD 
Goals & Objectives 
  • Offer veterans short-term employment (4-6 months) which leads to full-time career opportunities.
  • Train veterans in various skill-sets based on career path.
  • Seek community support and involvement for Firewise program.
  • Solicit private donations to support program efforts. 
  • Graduate veterans to full-time employment and repeat the effort with unemployed veterans. 
Continued Training Initiatives 
  • S-212 Power Says (Sawyer) March 28-30, 2014 in Pierre, SD

The course lessons provide introduction to the function, maintenance and use of internal combustion engine powered chain saws, and their tactical wildland fire application.  Field exercises support entry level training for firefighters with little or no previous experience in operating a chainsaw, providing hands-on cutting experience in surroundings similar to fire line situation.


Completed Training Initiatives 

MSHA Training 

  • Mandatory Safety & Health Standards
  • Transportation Controls & Communication Systems
  • Firefighting
  • Ground Conditions & Control
  • Traffic Patterns & Control
  • Working in Areas of High Walls
  • Water Hazards, Pit & Spoil Piles
  • First Aid
  • Electrical Hazards
  • Accident Prevention
  • Health
  • Mobile Equipment Hazards
  • Maintenance & Repair; Material Handling; Working Around Moving Objects
  • Hazard Communications
  • Machine Guarding
  • Review of Mine Safety Act

Emergency Management - FEMA 

  • IS-00100.b Introduction to Incident Command System ICS-100 
  • IS-00200.b ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incident, ICS-200 
  • IS-00700.a National Incident Management System (NIMS) An Introduction 
  • IS-00120.a An Introduction to Exercises 
  • IS-00800.b National Response Framework,  An Introduction 
  • IS-00701.a NIMS Multiagency Coordination Systems (MACS) 
  • IS-00130 Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning
  • IS-00634 Introduction to FEMA's Public Assistance Program
  • IS-00240.a Leadership and Influence 
  • IS - 00130 Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning 
  • IS - 00242.a Effective Communication

GIS Training Class 

  •  GIS, Geographic Information Systems, is a technology in which data in the form of points, lines, and polygons are connected to databases providing information about a geographical area. GIS is a digital map containing several layers of data, each layer containing specific information within the digital map. 
  • Training on mapping projects and using GPS coordinates.
  • CPR class instructed by Meade County Jail Medical Staff 
  • CPR Certification obtained 

S-212 Wildland Fire Chains Saws Class 

  • Classroom and practical 
  • Certified  

RT 130 Annual Fireline Safety Refresher Training 


Black Hills Interagency Guard School

  • S-130, S-190, S-134, S-133, L-180, and I-100
ATV and UTV Safety Training

Mountain Pine Beetle survey and marking
  • Infested tree identification and common misleading signs 

Resume Writing and Job Interview Skills 

Successfully passed and received eligible certifications in all training classes
 Completed Firewise Projects
 Completed VET Project #10-11 
These two sites were infested with mountain pine beetle and suffered substantial loss. Firewise was able to clear infected trees and promote a healthier ecosystem.   
VET Project #12-13

The next two sites were thinned to the average spacing of 15-18 feet leaving mostly hardwoods.  

Firewood Stacked for Landowner Use 
VET Project #14-16
From left to right these properties offered very different obstacles.  First was a new home built in a dense portion of the forest.  Clearing a path around the driveway to create a clear exit in case of an emergency was crutial.  We then created a fire break around the home to create survivable space.   In the second property, the homeowner had recently moved in and realized the property was overgrown and had excessive ground fuels, as well as ladder fuels.  The third property had large areas of regeneration and countless dog hair patches.
VET Project #17
This property was unique as every tree was large and close enough to contact the home.  We were able to safely fall all trees and mitigate the risk from wildland fire. 
VET Project #18
This property held dense clusters of trees in front of the home and garage.  We focused our efforts around the structures. 
VET Project #19-20
Both of these sites were revisited after storm Atlas for excessive number of downed trees.

Future Projects for FireWise Program
All of  these projects were secured by our targeted mailings to property owners in Meade County. Onsite visits with property owners have been conducted with a mutual understanding of program benefits and anticipated results. 

These two sites offered a different challenge due to their terrain.  Both having very steep slopes with dense ares of regeneration.
 This property again suffers from damaged trees from winter storm Atlas and requires our attention to reduce the risk of wildfire.
This property has several dead and damaged trees that are a risk to the home  and property. 
This site had severe damage from the winter storm Atlas with many downed trees which added to their ground fuels problem.
This property has a large patch of densely populated trees on it southern half as well as a large patch of regeneration to the west of home.
Demographics of Homeless Veterans
  • 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 51% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

Program Donations: 
  • RDO Equipment - John Deere Gator 
  • Meade County - Ford Explorer / Flatbed Trailer
  • Meade County  covered the 2013 Workers' Compensation expenses: $16,000
  • Ernest & Kimberly Rupp - $100  
Some Hard Facts which require Public Support and Education 
  • 23 military suicides every day 
  • Over 8,000 deaths per year
  • 30% of Post 911 Veterans report they have contemplated suicide

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leadership did something many governmental agencies fear to attempt or fail to accomplish. They looked at a long standing program (FireWise) and initiated a new idea and approach to accomplish an end goal; safer communities via fire mitigation efforts and education.  Currently in full operation with BLM funding, guidance and support - our FireWise Veterans have proven the programs' goals a success. Well received and reinforced by community participation; multiple fire mitigation projects have been completed by our Veterans.  All program participants contribute a "cost share" back to the FireWise program in support of our Veteran initiative.  These dollars, in conjunction with BLM funding and the management  oversight by the county - assist in keeping the program active in our community. 

Office: 605.720.1625 / email: 
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1300 Sherman Street STE 212 / Sturgis, SD 57785 - 605.720.1625