Mike Reed Moonlights as Wildland Firefighter

Montclair Code Enforcement Supervisor "Moonlights" as Wildland Firefighter
Posted on 09/12/2018
While most folks were on vacation, sitting around campfires or enjoying the blazing summer weather at the shore, Mike Reed, Montclair’s Code Enforcement Operations Supervisor was helping battle the blazing wildfires in Oregon.

Reed, whose other job is with the U. S. Forest Service, was called out first to help firefighters suppress the Long Hollow fire in Dufur, Oregon, in the North Central part of the state just south of the Columbia River basin. Two days later he was reassigned to help contain the South Umpqua, Oregon complex, southeast of Roseberg. A complex is two or more individual fires located in the same general area.

“I was a Division Supervisor, assigned to the Miles fire which was contiguous to multiple counties in the state,” said Reed. “Our base was located in Milo on the Umpqua and Rouge River National Forests and I was responsible for the strategy and tactics employed within a specific area of the fire.”

Reed spent two weeks in late July and early August helping battle the Oregon fires.

“Crews are assigned to two-week stretches at a time, spending 16 hours a day on site,” said Reed. “It’s exhausting work. Any longer than two weeks, people start making mistakes.”

At one point, the South Umpqua complex covered more than 50,000 acres. Reed’s job was to determine how best to contain the fire with his division.

“I had overall responsibility for all the crews, engines, dozers, and other equipment assigned to two divisions. We used dozer lines (firelines created by the blades of bulldozers), hand lines (firelines made with hand tools), retardant (via air drops), hose lays etc., to reinforce containment and suppress the flames – flames that, at times, reached 150 feet.”

When Reed first arrived, less than 10 percent of the South Umpqua complex was contained. It was over 50 percent contained when he left. As of earlier this week, the complex continues to wind down into "patrol and monitor status."

Reed has a long history as a firefighter. He started as a part-time firefighter with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service in 1984 at the age of 18, then was brought on full-time in 1986.

“My first western fire assignment was in 1986  – the Ace Creek fire in Washington State,” said Reed. “I continued to fulfill western fire assignments every year and later on became part of a federal type 1 incident management team.”

Type 1 is the most complex level of the wildfire five-tiered incident command system (ICS), requiring a multi-agency response to a major incident, as well as a large number of personnel and equipment.

In 1987 he left the state to take a full-time position with the U.S. Forest Service in Southern California working helitack (helicopter-delivered fire resources).
“Helitack crews attack a wildfire to gain early control of it, especially when the fire is inaccessible to ground crews, making it impossible for them to respond to it in the same amount of time,” said Reed.

Over the years, Reed fought fires in all of the western states and many of the eastern seaboard states. Some of the most severe incidents he was called out to include:

Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988, collectively forming the largest wildfire in the recorded history of the park; the historic Florida fires, which destroyed dozens of homes in the central part of the state and forced the evacuation of over 30,000 residents; the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire near Durango, Colorado that destroyed nearly 72,000 acres; the 2014 Beaver fire in California's Klamath National Forest; and the fall of 2015 wildfire outbreak in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

His duties didn’t always require him to fight blazes.

“I’ve also worked with post-incident response teams for hurricanes in the southern states,” said Reed.

In 1989 Reed joined the Newark fire department, where he served for 27 years, achieving the rank of battalion chief. During his tenure there, he was called out to work helitack for three days and another four in Ground Zero recovery efforts in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Reed retired from the Newark Fire Department in 2016.

When asked, if he misses being a full-time firefighter, he replied, “I do. For a lot of guys, there’s the adrenaline rush. I’m definitely a junkie.”

Photo L-R: Mike Reed with Adjoining Division Supervisor and Security Specialist, South Umpqua complex, Oregon