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Training Pays Off for Apiary Supervisor

February 16, 2016

Gary Van Cleef learned more than instruction and presentation techniques from a supervisor training course. He also learned how to fight a wildfire – and last week he put that knowledge to work. Van Cleef is an Agriculture and Consumer Protection Supervisor in the Apiary section of the FDACS Division of Plant Industry

Firetruck

Gary attended the M410 Facilitator Instructor Course at the Florida Forest Service Withlacoochee Training Center in Brooksville a few years ago to add to his skills as a supervisor in Apiary Inspection. On July 9, he suddenly found himself fighting a wildfire near his home.

It was a windy day in Alachua County – so windy that a pine tree was blown over on a power line, snapping the line and setting the tree and the surrounding forest on fire. Van Cleef, who lives about a mile northeast of the La Crosse Citrus Budwood Repository, was heading home after work.

“I rushed home, passing the La Crosse Volunteer Fire Department going the other way. The 911 dispatcher had given the wrong location to the fire department and power company, so I arrived at the scene first.”

Van Cleef, with the help of a neighbor, Bob, a retired fire fighter, had already established a firebreak when the first engine arrived.

“The woods and pasture were so dry the fire was traveling upwind at a fast pace,” Van Cleef said. “There is a mobile home about 100 feet from the origin point along the forest. Bob’s house is downwind, adjoining another pine forest full of dry fuel.”

The Alachua County brush truck arrived last and mopped up the scene. Two other fire engines were stationed on the road and they remained there to prevent the fire crossing to the other forest.

But Gary’s work was not done after the fire was put out.

brush fire terminator

Van Cleef, walking to get the old, reliable white truck to pull the brush and power company trucks out of the mud.

“The brush and power company trucks got stuck when they were ready to leave, so I pulled them out with the old white, two-wheel-drive Dodge  truck I always drive,” he said.

Van Cleef was left with one more chore: clearing the road of two trees that had blown over.

“I wish I had had a pulaski or fire rake that day,” he said. “I learned how to use them from fellow students’ presentations during the M410 course.”

(A pulaski is a specialized firefighting tool combining an axe and adze in one head. Forest firefighters use it to both dig and chop. It is named after Edward “Big Ed” Pulaski, a hero in the annals of the U.S. Forest Service who, in the early Twentieth Century introduced and improved the tool that firefighters still depend on.)

Van Cleef is undaunted by the hair-raising experience.

“Just another day in Apiary Inspection,” he said.

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