Native American Firefighters Of The Southwest - Part 2

Robert M. Winston concludes his report from the front lines as Native American fire crews face unique challenges.


The largest industrial park of any Indian reservation is located here. Hazardous materials operations in the park consist of aluminum, hazardous gas and machine explosives manufacturing as well as trucking and storage operations. Also located on the reservation are an estimated 255 illegal dumpsites.

A recent fire involved millions of tires. The fire was eventually contained, buried under a thick layer of dirt, but continues to smolder under that covering to this day.

Committed To Service

The department's mission statement says, "The Gila River Fire Department is committed to providing the highest level of public service to all of the people within our community. We are committed to the protection of life and property through rapid intervention in emergencies, the prevention of fire and the development progressive public education and code enforcement programs. We will build and maintain community trust by holding ourselves to the highest standards of professional performance, education, and ethics. We strive to continually serve the people of our community with the motto 'A Concern For Others.' " (This motto is emblazoned onto the front of all GRFD fire apparatus.)

William "Bart" Beckwith has been chief of the GRFD since 1993. He is a 38-year fire service veteran who started out as a volunteer firefighter in Southern California. He later was a paid firefighter in the Chicago area and a military firefighter. Beckwith was the first paid fire chief in Chandler, AZ, serving from 1974 to 1993 before becoming the GRFD chief.

Beckwith is also president of the newly organized Native American Fire Chiefs Association.

"This is a new and energetic organization with 14 members," Beckwith said. "We are actively looking for fire service people to become members. And you don't have to be a Native American, either. There are about 1,500 Native American tribes and we are trying to network with them all to share information and increase the association's membership. The association has a newsletter called 'Smoke Signals.' I believe that Native Americans should be afforded every opportunity for jobs, especially on their own reservations. The fire service is one way to help them get jobs."

Busy Times & A Bright Future

According to the GRFD's annual report for October 1997-September-1998, the department responded to 2,055 incidents, of which 34 were structural fires; 162 vehicle fires; 140 grass, brush and woods fires; 224 EMS calls; 389 motor vehicle crashes; 474 lockouts and numerous other incidents. Dollar losses totaled $1,428,400. Nearly 8,300 training hours were logged, and public education activities were attended by 7,819 people. The department also performed 234 inspections.

The Gila River and its fire and rescue personnel pledge to work hard to keep pace with the area's phenomenal growth. They are "committed to providing the highest level of public service and have 'A Concern For Others.' " The future looks bright for this department and its employees now and in the next millennium.

For additional information contact the Gila River Fire Department, 5002 N. Maricopa Road/P.O. Box 5083, Chandler, AZ 85226 (telephone 520-796-5900/5909).

Native American Wildland Firefighter Dies In Line Of Duty

Native American Wildland Firefighter Gregory Pacheco, 20, died in the line of duty on Oct. 5, 1999, as a result of massive head trauma. He was struck by a falling boulder two days earlier while working at a nearly 8,000-acre wildland fire on the La Jolla Indian Reservation near the Cleveland National Forest in California. Firefighter Pacheco was a member of the Penasco Five Wildland Hand Crew from the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. Another Native American wildland firefighter from the same crew was less seriously injured in the incident, according to the U.S. Forest Service.


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection. Questions and comments may be sent to him via e-mail at dfcwins@idt.net