Life outside being a Zag: The Forest Service Zags

  • Nick Lacey:  He’s the definition of a Mountain Man. Combating deadly wildfires in the heat of Oregon summers is his cup of tea.

  • Christina Ramous:  This is the girl you’ll see smiling back at you when you pull up in your car to buy a park passes for Kanaskat- Palmer and Nolte State Parks.


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Nick is majoring in Environmental Studies

Me: What is your official title? Are you a forest ranger?

Nick: My official job title is “Forestry Technician [Fire].” I work on an initial attack engine, which means we’re the first people on the fire, and we try to contain them while they are still small. When there is little fire activity on our forest, we go on extended assignments to big fires, anywhere in the western US. When we are not fighting fires we patrol our forest and enforce Forest Service regulations and do random maintenance jobs.

I am not actually a “forest ranger” and to my knowledge our forest does not have designated rangers. I cannot personally write citations, but there is usually one person in every engine that can, and they act as our rangers.

Me: How did you get started with the Forest Service?

Nick: When I was in high school I responded to an ad for student summer employment with a private contractor. I got the position and that summer the Forest Service contracted my crew to do maintenance work on campgrounds and trails. Long story short, I was the only person on the contract crew that worked hard and didn’t fool around on the job, so the Forest Service asked me to work for them the next summer. I obviously accepted that offer and I’ve been with them 5 seasons now.

Me: Wow! What was the training like?

Nick: We are ALWAYS training. When I first got my job on the fire crew, they sent me to “fire school” which was a week-long. In that week they taught us how to use basic equipment (pumps, engines, radios, hand tools), we also learned about fire behavior and weather, command structure, first aid and all that. At the end of that week we went to the mountains where someone lit a fire on purpose, and we practiced what we had learned on real fire.

Now every summer when I return they put us through “refresher” trainings which recap what we learned at fire school. There are also random trainings throughout the summer and I take advantage of those opportunities whenever I can. In all I attend about 2-3 weeks of classroom training per summer.

Me: That’s impressive! What are you plans this summer with the Forest Service?

Nick: This summer I’m going back to the Umatilla National Forest to work on an engine. Our station is in Ukiah Oregon, which is a teeny little town in the middle of nowhere, and it’s awesome! Working for the Forest Service usually doesn’t even feel like a job because I enjoy it so much. Everyone I work with is awesome and I have the privilege spending almost all of my working hours in the woods.

edited another

Me: Any exciting stories about your time on the job?

Nick: Two come to mind… My first summer on the fire crew (right before college) I got an extended assignment to Vale Oregon for my first big fire. The first few days of the assignment were a blast, the fire was growing pretty quickly and I got to see all sorts of planes, helicopters, and other fire personnel do their thing. Near the end of the first week my engine was on the fire doing our thing when an absolutely hellish thunderstorm decided to roll through. Dispatch issued a tornado watch and flash flood warning and we were told to leave the fire line immediately. We high-tailed it out of the canyons as the road turned into a river, but luckily everything turned out all right. The storm even put the fire out so we went home the next day.

The second story is my favorite. Last summer I broke my arm so I could not do front line work. I ended up working and living alone in a remote lookout tower all summer. My job was to detect “smokes” and report them to dispatch. Since I was in a 90 foot steel tower on the top of a mountain I got to sit through a lot of lightning storms. During the storms I would stand on a glass stool so if the tower was struck, the glass would insulate me and I wouldn’t be killed. Anyways one afternoon I had been standing on this stool for hours and I finally got fed up and sat down in my wooden chair. Not a second later there was a flash and the most deafening boom ever, the lightning had struck a tree only 40 yards from my tower! The tree caught on fire, but it was also pouring rain so that didn’t last long. I was totally fine but apparently I sounded pretty rattled when I called in the strike over the radio, I don’t think my coworkers will ever let me live that one down.

Me: How does your ZAG life blend with your Forest Service life?

Nick: Honestly being a ZAG doesn’t blend well with the Forest Service life, and that’s because school in the fall starts right in the middle of fire season. Therefore I end up missing out on a bunch of Forest Service opportunities, but I wouldn’t change a thing. 

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Christina is studying English and Religious Studies

Me: What is your official title?

Christina: Park Aide

Me: So, what are your responsibilities at your job?

Christina: Maintaining Washington State Parks. A lot of selling park passes, working the cash register, organizing reservations, or outside weed eating, mowing, cleaning up campgrounds and various other tasks I am assigned depending on the day.

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Me: What is a funny story or experience you have had while working in the park?

Christina: I think it’s funny getting complaints. Like maybe they think the grass is too long or something. Well umm yeah, they’re in nature…. camping or visiting. It happens.

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Me: What are your plans with the state park this summer?

Christina: Just to do the best job I can so that visitors will keep coming back and enjoy their camping, hikes, picnicking, swimming or whatever it might be.

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Me: Sounds fun! How does your ZAG life blend with your job?

Christina: I bring my normal positive attitude and hard work that I have at Gonzaga to work everyday. I am friendly and welcoming to people and try to keep and open mind. I just transfer the personality from school over to my job here around home. I am continuing to develop communication and relationship skills, but in a different way than at Gonzaga.

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