Western Mass firefighters return from battling West Coast fires - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Western Mass firefighters return home from battling West Coast wildfires

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For Jeff Belanger, Eric Rogers, Jesse Hanecak, Robin Armstrong and Greg Whittier being a firefighter is a childhood dream, a way of life and in their blood.

"It's just always been a dream of mine," said Belanger.  

"I realize it's exactly what I want to do," said Armstrong.  

"My farther did it until he retired and I just followed in his foot steps," said Hanecak.  

The group of five are wildland firefighters from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Representing five different Western Mass towns they joined a another group of 20 wildland firefighters from New Hampshire and New York and headed west to Washington State to help their fellow firefighters contain wildfires that burned more than 900,000 acres and turned people's homes into a pile of ash and twisted metal.

"It's pretty intense. It's a lot of hard work," said Rogers.  

The crew tracked up and down mountains to head to the front lines to face the flames one-on-one.

"We worked the hello-drops and running lookouts on this division of the fire," explained Belanger.

"This last assignment was 17 days, 16 to 18 hours a day," said Whittier.

The troop underwent extensive training to prepare for this job.

"We dedicate a lot of time for training to keep ourselves physically and mentally up to pare to get the job done," said Rogers.  

Wildfires can be very unpredictable making conditions dangerous for firefighters. But the group said they wouldn't have it any other way.

"There's always adrenalin and excitement. I have faith in my bosses to keep me safe," said Armstrong.

"As crazy as it sounds, it's fun. We saw signs every day from people thanking us so it's rewarding," said Whittier.

Although they just returned home, there is already another manifest being formed for another trip to leave next week.

This is not the first time Massachusetts firefighters have aided in battling wildfires in other parts of the country. Last year, a 20-person crew was sent to Missoula, MT, to help contain several lightning-caused fires.

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