Some summer jobs involve flipping burgers, watching youngsters swim or filing in an office, but not for Connor Kraegel. The senior international rescue and relief major spent an exciting summer as a Wildland firefighter for the Shoshone National Forest Wildland Fire Module, fighting wildfires in the region.
“Responding to wildland fires is an exhilarating experience,” explained Kraegel. “I had the opportunity to fight a fire in Glacier National Park where my hand crew was responsible for a 1.5 mile section of fire line. In order to construct a protective perimeter we used explosives to blow up trees and brush into a two-foot wide trench. Afterward we held the line with helicopter water bucket drops and extensive chainsaw work. After two long weeks and over 100 miles of hiking we finally contained the fire.”
The Shoshone National Forest Wildland Fire Module is a type 2 wildland fire engine/hand crew based near Cody, Wyoming, dedicated to fighting forest fires on public lands in the northern U.S.
Kraegel has been Wildland Firefighter certified for four years now. When looking for a place to work for the summer, he applied for 58 positions. “It took a while and it was a long process, but I finally landed this job as a crew medic,” Kraegel said. “When looking for a job, I kept telling myself that I wanted to work outdoors and with professionals.”
Because of the medical skills and emergency response training in his international rescue and relief coursework, Kraegel felt he was ready to tackle the many tasks assigned to him. “IRR survival training prepared me for rough and extensive work in the wilderness,” said Kraegel. “I have used knowledge from almost every FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) course required by IRR as well as skills learned in my emergency medical technician classes.”
But the summer job taught him even more. “This summer has been a chance to learn from the best of the best,” said Kraegel. He acquired new firefighting skills while on the job including engine operation, chainsaw operation, and use of fire-like explosives and burn techniques. Each day he worked with engines, chainsaws, hand tools, communication equipment, heavy operations and maintenance. His experience also demonstrated the importance of following orders and using training to properly manage fires.
Finding a calling
After completing a degree in business management at Montgomery College in Maryland, Kraegel felt that maybe he needed to find a better fit. “I googled IRR-type programs and Union came up as one of the options,” Kraegel said.
Kraegel is currently finishing his last year of school earning a paramedic certification at Denver Health in Colorado. After graduation, he plans to continue working as a fire crew medic or an international travel medic.
“My most memorable time at Union was the Nicaragua expedition,” said Kraegel of the semester all senior IRR majors spend in Nicaragua learning medical skills and jungle survival. Learning so much and seeing a lot of different things in such a short period of time helped give him skills to adapt to each situation he will likely encounter in his line of work.
For Kraegel, the most memorable part of working with the Hotshots was great people and learning to work with different equipment in different situations. On the flip side, he also witnessed some sad tragedies, such as motor vehicle fatalities.
“My advice for young students looking for internships or graduates looking for jobs is don’t give up,” Kraegel said. “Apply your heart out, stand out from the crowd and be persistent in what you want.”
By Megan Wehling, student writer