ROCKPORT — Rockport native Millard Ring had friends in high school who were serving with the local forest firefighter department in Rockport.
He joined in 1994; initially as a good background as he planned to join the U.S. Coast Guard, but he’s stayed with it since.
”I actually found out I liked working the in the woods a lot more,” he said. “It gives me an incentive to stay in shape.”
Ring and forest firefighting colleagues from across Massachusetts did a lot more than stay in shape in their most recent deployment — which carried him far from Rockport. He has just returned from three weeks battling this summer’s catastrophic western wildfires, in this case, across Montana.
Ring, a squad boss ,was aiding with initial attack, sometimes a few feet from the flames that raged across Montana; the crew was not sent to any of the larger fires that were burning, but tried to prevent big ones from getting bigger.
“We were on standby for any new fires that came up,” he said.
Initial attack means they are one of the first firefighters to arrive; the crews are essentially on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the most part, that means moving flammable items away from the fire or working with an engine or a helicopter to extinguish the fire.
The fires Ring helped extinguish were caused by lighting.
”At the time, it was so dry, they were worried about fires spreading to rapidly to be able to control,” he said.
The biggest concerns, he said, were the uneven terrain and trees, when the roots burn out they can become serious safety concerns; throughout his nine tours Ring has never been injured on the job.
He’s also been to Washington state, Quebec, Idaho, California, Alaska, Oregon.