Meade County Firewise Program    
"Hire a Veteran Initiative"
Supported and Funded by the Bureau of Land Management 
"Hire a Veteran, train a Veteran, and you will help a Veteran transition back into civilian society"
May 2017
FireWise  Newsletter
Meade County , SD

Veterans coming back from tours of duty and time in service often find themselves returning to a world that can seem so foreign to them.  The places might feel familiar, but time kept marching on while they were away and it is impossible to expect that they can just pick up their lives exactly where they had left them.  A lot of veterans leave as inexperienced kids, and come back years later expected to hit the ground running as well-adjusted contributing members of society.

While enlisted, service members are given a purpose, a direction, and an unwavering path by which they must follow.  Even though it may be clear, that path is not always easy, and it almost always comes at a price.  While on deployment, so many veterans encounter some of the unspeakable horrors humanity has to offer, and most have to come face to face with the dark reality that they themselves might never return home- to look in the eyes of brothers and sisters, wondering if this is the last time they'll see each other.

For those that do return, they are faced with a brand new set of challenges.  The camaraderie and brotherhood they had once been a part of has now dissipated.  Some will have the support of family, friends, and their community, but not every veteran has a solid support system to help bring them into the fold.  Granted, there are tons of resources available to veterans who have returned home, but many veterans may not be aware of these resources, may be unsure of how they can be assisted, or the system may occasionally fail to address their specific needs.

So the veteran will turn to whatever comforts they can find.  In the most severe of cases, veterans struggle with their own self-prescribed medication techniques (alcohol, illicit drugs, or other harmful outlets they have been using to cope with their experiences).  According to the South Dakota Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 18% of service members returning are expected to suffer from some degree of PTSD.  These issues combine to make reintegration increasingly difficult as they try to plug back into a society that doesn't understand their issues.  Difficulties maintaining a job because of these issues can cause financial and social troubles which oftentimes result in homelessness and addiction problems.

If left untreated an unaddressed, homeless veterans become a liability to themselves and the public.  The onus for their care oftentimes falls on public institutions or programs.  For the public, government funds are spent on the fallout from their condition: incarceration, medical treatment, or other aid/assistance programs that do not come without a cost.  For the veteran, they often feel alone and isolated without any hope for their lives to improve, which can lead to substance abuse and eventually suicide.

In 2017 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the total veteran count is 19,961 in Butte, Custer, Lawrence, Meade and Pennington counties.  That is an increase of 3.6% from 2016 (19,265).  The veteran populace is localized in the area because of the proximity to two VA facilities: Fort Meade in Meade County and the VA hospital in Hot Springs that handles more specialized treatment programs for veterans.  Data from local shelters place the homeless veteran count between 70-100 at any given point in time.

The Meade County Firewise Program, operating under the BLM "Veteran in the Woods Initiative," seeks to reach out to the veterans and provide help and hope in identifying and achieving their goals.

Firewise Basic Training includes:
  • Meeting with the Veteran Services Officer to identify and enroll in VA benefits and programs
  • Identifying career goals to give a focused job-hunting plan
  • Identifying education goals, and directing the veteran to any applicable VA funding assistance
  • Assisting with the transition from military to civilian life

Current FireWise Veterans




Travis Ugland - Veteran 

Meade County Fire Mitigation Coordinator


Jason Easton - Veteran 
Meade County Fire Mitigation Specialist


Kevin Paul - Veteran 
Meade County Fire Mitigation Specialist

Recent Graduates

Alex Abraham:

"Thank You Meade County FireWise!  Thank you for the best job I've had in years.  For giving me the chance to do something fun, honorable, and challenging all at the same time."    -Alex Abraham-

Preston Williams successfully found full-time employment within the community.

Frank Borsellino successfully found full-time employment within the community.

Past Program Participants 

Dan Campbell
Before & After  Pictures

This property had severe storm damage and many downed trees.  We were able to clean up the  extreme  level of ground fuels as well as removal of the standing safety concerns.  As  the maintained area is lower in elevation it was threatening to the home in the case of a wildfire.

Memorial Day - May 29th, 2017
Letter of  Thanks:

Thanks are not uncommon around Meade County FireWise- from land owners and former participants of the program. We have an ever-growing network of veterans who have served their country proudly and truly understand camaraderie.  Their experiences and friendships made while on the program will impact their lives for years to come.  We have always been able to pull together and collectively help each other through difficult times and situations.

Program Donations: 
  • Signs Now - FireWise Event Banner
  • RDO Equipment - John Deere Gator 
  • Meade County - Ford Explorer 
  • Meade County - Flatbed Trailer
  • Meade County - Ford F150
  • Napa Auto Parts - Reciever Hitch for Ford F-150
  • Meade County  covered the 2013 Workers' Compensation expenses: $16,000
  • Ernest & Kimberly Rupp - $100
  • Chainsaw Center- 50% of cost of Brush Saw (Firewise Equipment)
  • Teri McDougle and Brad Carmen 2015 - 250$ Donation
  • Numberous patrons donating during rally 
  • Greg Wagner Memorial Fund 2015 - $500
  • Teri McDougle and Brad Carmen 2016 - 125$ Donation
  • Signs Now - FireWise Event Banner
  • TransCanada - $5,000 Donation
  • Greg Wagner Memorial Fund 2016 - $500 Donation

About FireWise
-Goals & Objectives-
  • 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. 
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.
  • A Gentle Introduction to GIS
    • The course covered the basic concepts of GIS as well as introduced QGIS, an open-source free program that is an inexpensive alternative for mapping. 
  • CPR
    • 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
  • Suicide Prevention Techniques /Awareness
  • 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 
  • South Dakota Public Assurance Allience and SDML Workers Compensation Fund
    • 4-Hour Defensive Driving Course - The main objective of this course is to save lives by instructing participants in how to avoid costly collisions and injuries.
    • Harassment Prevention - Training all employees to understand, prevent and deal with workplace discrimination and harassment is nothing less than essential.  Instead of allowing inapropriate conduct to lower employee morale and productivity, organizations should foster a positive and respectful work enviroment that will help all employees thrive.  This course is designed to help your entity accomplish just that. 
  • Credit When Credit is Due - Institute of Consumer Financial Education
Successfully  passed and received eligible certifications in all training classes.

Pictured is Jason Easton fueling up his chainsaw always wearing the appropriate personal protective gear: Hard Hat, Safety Glasses, Hearing Protection, Leather Gloves, Chainsaw Chaps, and Steel Toe Logging Boots. 

Every veteran goes through the S-212 Wildland Fire Chainsaw Course which teaches them the basics of felling trees, chainsaw maintenance, and some important information regarding wildland fire and wildfire suppression tactics.

FireWise Veteran Kevin Paul sharpening his chainsaw for a full day of cutting near Nemo South Dakota.  Maintenance of equipment is vital to operate effectively.  

Future Properties

 15 booked properties with over 25 acres with 20 structures. 

Current Veteran  Initiated  FireWise Efforts
  • Acres Treated - 281
  • Structures Protected -124
  • Properties Treated - 66
  • Veterans Graduated -30
  • Projects Scheduled - 15

Sounds of Trauma

The Sound of War Come Home