In his 2018 State of the Union, the President singled out one of our own as a model for the nation. He praised Dave Dahlberg for his exemplary service in saving 58 children and 24 staff from a wildfire threatening a summer camp.
Dave, a fire prevention specialist with seven seasons of experience on Los Padres National Forest in California, stood in uniform in the United States Capitol to receive accolades from the President, which were followed by a standing ovation from Congress and guests.
Last July, Dave was part of a team battling the Whittier Fire near Santa Barbara. The fire cut off the Circle V Ranch Camp before all the kids and staff could get out. First responders attempted to reach the camp but were unsuccessful. Santa Barbara County Fire Division Chief Steve Oaks, who was serving as evacuation group supervisor, discussed with Dave the need to reach the camp. Together, they decided that Dave would make another try.
Dave was familiar with the area, including access to the camp and location of the structures. He had participated in structure protection simulations at the camp and had helped with a wildland fire training camp there. Only two years earlier, he had been in a training session at the exact same location. His training had included a “what if” scenario of being cut off by a fire, including access and egress routes.
Dave made it to the camp, then contacted Chief Oaks. After assessing the situation, they decided that everyone would shelter in place inside the dining hall. Helped by camp counselors and staff members, Dave prepared the camp for the oncoming fire by wetting down the main lodge and removing debris and flammable material from around buildings. Overhead, helicopters and airtankers made drops on the approaching flames.
A bulldozer finally got through to cut fireline around the camp, and an hour or so later everyone was evacuated in a convoy of vehicles. Dave’s presence and calm demeanor kept anyone from trying to flee the refuge of the camp. Thankfully, everyone survived unharmed.
Dave exemplifies the outstanding dedication of Forest Service employees that makes our agency so great. His training and experience prepared him to collaborate with partners, help make the right decisions and take actions that truly made a difference to a group of trapped and frightened kids and staff.
Dave also epitomizes the courage and commitment of Forest Service firefighters. Through his selfless act of courage, he brought honor to himself and honor to the Forest Service. He is a model of our service to the nation — of what we mean by “Caring for the land and serving people” — and I am proud to serve alongside him.