Pilot Job Corps Dispatch Academy spawns spin-offs

Scott Swendsen stands behind a podium at the front of a classroom.
Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center manager Scott Swendsen leads an after action review of the inaugural Job Corps Dispatch Academy. Forest Service photo by Lawrence Lujan.

COLORADO—“If you believe it, you can achieve it.” Those were the first words that a vocational development specialist said to student Kaylene Ripko when she arrived at the Mingo Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Puxico, Missouri.

So when Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center manager Scott Swendsen designed a pilot Job Corps Dispatch Academy, Ripko seized the opportunity and applied. She and fellow Job Corps students David Lopez, Julien Roth and Ryan Hannigan began the training program the first week of May, and on Oct. 2, they graduated as the inaugural class.

Dispatch D-110 Expanded Dispatch Recorders collect the information needed to dispatch the appropriate resources to fires and national emergencies during periods of high activity, from personnel, to supplies or equipment. Once a crisis is over, they also ensure that everyone and everything gets back home. The crucial role dispatch plays could be overlooked—that is until the boots on the ground discover they don’t have the right personnel or the right tool to effectively do their jobs.

Every year, hundreds of wildland fire dispatcher positions, which require 90 days of wildland firefighting experience, go unfilled due to the low number of qualified applicants. Swendsen, an enthusiastic Job Corps supporter, recognized the potential for Job Corps students to help fill this gap. Working with the Job Corps Fire Program, and with the assistance of the Rocky Mountain Region, he designed a training academy specifically for Job Corps students.

The five phases of the academy included D-110 Expanded Dispatcher Recorder training, National Wildfire Coordination Group training at Colorado Wildland Fire & Incident Management Academy and work assignments at dispatch centers on national fire assignments. Over the past five months, Hannigan, Lopez, Roth and Ripko have supported dispatch centers across four different Forest Service regions in Utah, Montana, Oregon and Colorado.

“The hard work you put in is reflected in the overall data from the Resource Ordering Self Status System. There were approximately 1,300 Job Corps fire assignments this season, which equates to 14,000 days worked. This totals 145,000 work hours, based on a 10-hour day. All of you were a part of making the United States Forest Service Job Corps Fire Program a success,” Swendsen announced to the students at their graduation ceremony.  

The 2018 inaugural dispatch academy has been so successful that in 2019 two new academies, one in the Southern Region in February and one in the Pacific Northwest Region in May, are being held in addition to a second academy in the Rocky Mountain Region next April.

Job Corps Acting Fire Program coordinator Justin Abbey told the four graduates, “The foundation, knowledge and experience you have received here will serve you well in the futures ahead of you.” Ripko, who has recently accepted a career position in timber management in the Southern Region, has already benefited from the coaching and mentoring she received from the dispatch and fire community.

Harpers Ferry (West Virginia) Job Corps student Julien Roth and Collbran (Colorado) Job Corps student David Lopez are in permanent positions working in wildland fire. Having a keen interest in a career in law enforcement, Ryan Hannigan, who also attends Collbran Job Corps, recently completed an interview with a county Sheriff’s Office. “I chose to attend Job Corps because of the opportunities offered by the fire program,” said Hannigan. “I saw the Dispatch Academy as another opportunity to further my knowledge and job skills that can be applied to any career field.”

Forest Service Job Corps and the Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management manage the Job Corps Wildland Fire Program in partnership. Fire managers train students as wildland firefighters, dispatchers, camp crewmembers, cooks and servers at all 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers.

Group photo. Students hold up glass graduation plaques.
Greg Sanders, Fire and Aviation Job Corps National Fire Program Coordinator; Raquel Stanton, Job Corps Fire Program Administrative Assistant; Diana Trujillo, Acting Job Corps National Director and Justin Abbey, Acting Job Corps Fire Program Coordinator appear with (L–R) Job Corps Dispatch Academy graduates Kaylene Ripko, Julien Roth, David Lopez, and Ryan Hannigan. Forest Service photo by Lawrence Lujan.