CLOVIS – As people move on from the Sierra National Forest, they take with them an inestimable amount of knowledge and experience gained through the years spent with the agency.
In the past few weeks, several of those folks have moved on to the next chapter of their lives, leaving very big shoes to fill.
Joe Reyes, or Chief 1 as he is also known, began his career 35 fire seasons ago in 1980. Joe has been the Sierra National Forest’s Fire Management Officer since 2011, starting with the Forest in 1997 as Battalion Chief at Batterson Station in Oakhurst, Calif. Joe then went on to work as the Fire Training Officer where he oversaw the fire apprentice and fire prevention programs in addition to coordinating fire training needs for the unit.
As the Forest’s Fire Management Officer Joe has also traveled to many countries, such as Mexico, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Bhutan and Brunei, to teach courses on the Incident Command System (ICS) to promote disaster preparedness.
As the Sierra National Forest family says goodbye to their beloved Fire Management Officer, Reyes leaves them with a note that he will be enjoying retirement’s big adventure by continuing to assist with type one national emergency teams and type two (regional emergency teams), as an AD or “On Call” fire support. Joe will continue to teach and be a part of the Forest Service International Programs, with a trip to Ethiopia in the works and says he may even “dip into private industry and try out leadership consulting” based on the principles of the Incident Command System. Joe Reyes retired from the Forest Service on Jan. 2, 2015.
With more than 80 years of service between them, Joe Bedell and Richard Bailey also retired on Jan. 2, from the Sierra National Forest Road Maintenance Crew. Richard has 39 years with the Forest and Joe Bedell has logged in 44 years.
Both are very experienced equipment operators who have most recently been working with their crew on important storm preparation and repair of the French Fire area to prevent erosion and damage as winter storms hit the burned area along the Scenic Byway.
Richard plans to spend some time on the coast with his wife, Hope, and take a trip to Pismo to “enjoy the clam chowder at Brad’s,” and spend more time with their grandchildren, Makaela and Emma.
Joe plans to spend more time with his wife, Lynn, and get caught up with work on their property in Ahwahnee. Joe and Lynne have two children, Lee and Joy, and five grandchildren between them, all boys, and one granddaughter aged four, who he admits is a “bit spoiled” being the only girl. Joe and Lynne might do a road trip to Vermont to visit family at some point in the future.
Both have fond memories of the Sierra and leave with a feeling that the Road Crew is in good hands, with co-workers Jason De La Cruz, Joseph Bishop and Tim Hedberg who they say “will rise to the occasion” along with their supervisor and newly appointed Forest Engineer, Antonio Cabrera.
Hippy Mike Walsh began his career on the Sierra National Forest in 1970 as the Manager at the Fresno Air Tanker Base. Prior to that, Mike worked for the California Division of Forestry (Cal Fire) in the Fresno-Kings Ranger Unit. In 1984 he was reassigned to the Sierra National Forest at the Sierra Emergency Command Center (ECC) where he has worked as an Assistant Forest Dispatcher.
When asked what has changed the most in his 50 years in fire and the agency he pointed out how much the technology has changed, “we didn’t have computers when I first started” and “now we are dependent on them, you can’t work without them”. Mike also noted how the safety equipment has improved and how we increasingly use science to better predict weather and other factors that affect fire behavior but he points out this hasn’t changed the basics for how you fight fire. “The tactics haven’t changed that much” and you still “have to have people on the ground,” he emphasized.
His nickname, he says, started in the good old days with a bit of a party house he used to own near the river where pilots and folks from the base would visit. “My hair was always a bit long,” and one of the pilots starting calling him “Hippy Mike” and it stuck.
Hippy Mike plans to stay busy spending time with his wife Linda, of 22 years, and working on the “honey-do” list, golfing, and riding his Harley. He also has a big project ahead to scan photos from numerous family albums that he inherited. Hippy Mike comes from a large family of 10 children with 4 sets of fraternal twins in the family! He plans to indulge his passion for photography.
When fire season rolls around again, Mike will be there to assist as an AD, helping as needed with resource orders, RAWS and ordering. He has also made himself available to anyone in Dispatch who has questions since, along with him, also leaves 55 seasons of experience.
Hippy Mike gave his last afternoon weather report on Dec. 23, 2014, in that iconic gravelly voice followed with a net message from Battalion 61, The Hippy, saying that “after serving 6 fire seasons with CalFire, 44 seasons with the Sierra National Forest and 30 years as one of your dispatchers, the time has come for me to hang up my headset for the final time as of close of business today. It has been a real pleasure serving you and the Sierra National Forest in our good times and times of need. Memories of the last 55 seasons will be cherished by me. If you do hear my voice on the radio it will be “from the ghost of dispatcher’s past.”
“Farewell my fellow employees. KMB26.”