Veteran-led Team Rubicon conducts fire mitigation in Pulaski

State Farm agent Deanie Hall presents Richard Kos of the Pulaski County Emergency Management Office with a check for $500 to help fund last weekend’s fire mitigation event in the Draper Mountain Estates community of Pulaski. From left are: Pete Huber, a resident of the community, Hall, Kos, Steve Spangler of NR-Highlands Resource, Conservation and Development and John Warren of Team Rubicon. (Mike Williams/The Patriot)

By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

Team Rubicon, a veteran-led global disaster response organization, partnered with Pulaski County Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Forestry to prevent future wildfires from impacting homes in the Draper Mountain Estates community.

The chainsaw operation took place last weekend, in conjunction with the National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

About 25 Team Rubicon volunteers from Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania worked throughout the weekend to clear and thin flammable vegetation from around homes and in an area that was affected by a wildfire in 2016. Those items can act as fuel for wildfire, so clearing these areas will help protect homes located there.

Deanie Hall’s State Farm office in Dublin again this year contributed to the operation. She sponsored lunch for the volunteers participating in the event and State Farm provided a $500 grant toward costs for last week’s effort. That purchased two pairs of chainsaw safety chaps, chainsaw bar oil and True Fuel, chainsaw chains and bars.

“Team Rubicon has a highly trained cadre of chainsaw operators ready to put their skills to work in Pulaski,” said Michael Trahan, Team Rubicon’s Virginia Field Operations Lead.

“We are grateful for the warm welcome we have received from this community and honored to serve. I especially want to thank Brad Wright who has been working with us throughout the planning process.”

Wright, Pulaski County’s Emergency Management Coordinator and a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist with Virginia’s Department of Forestry, had worked with Team Rubicon in past disasters and invited them to serve in this effort.

Draper Mountain Estates is a Firewise Community, a designation from the National Fire Protection Association highlighting communities that take preventative measures to make structures more resistant to wildfire. Last weekend’s mitigation effort was a part of that process.

Besides State Farm, another organization supporting the effort was the New River Valley/Highlands RC&D.

Trahan, who has been with Team Rubicon for seven years, is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, is one of about 140,000 members throughout the country. Over 5,000 of them are in Virginia.

Team Rubicon has been responding to disasters for ten years and got its start when five former Marines traveled to Haiti to help with earthquake relief in 2010.

“They linked up with a couple more folks down there and worked for the next several months with basically nothing or what they could cobble together,” Trahan said.

“We know there is a need for people who can respond quickly and who want to continue to serve,” he added.

The group is now made up of former military, first responders and, what Trahan called “kick-ass civilians” who also want to come out to help.

Team Rubicon members in Pulaski last weekend were split basically into two teams – sawyers who have a minimum of 20 hours of training, many with over 100 hours of training, and swampers who pile debris into piles that will be burned by Wright and his team in the winter.

“All are volunteers, no one is paid to do anything. We come out on our own expense with donors like Deanie (Hall) and people like Brad (Wright) who has been outstanding. He’s done a great job,” Trahan said.

“We started this operation almost 18 months ago,” Trahan said, noting it was delayed by the pandemic. During that time Rubicon has continued to do disaster response at home and abroad, but not mitigation.

“We have folks in the Navajo Nation who have been doing COVID testing and now vaccinations. Several other Native American lands as well. Our EMTs and medics can work there and internationally.”

“We supported operations at food banks across the U.S. and Virginia, and in Virginia we’ve also done vaccinations. So, we’ve been busy, and at the same time responding to disasters,” Trahan said.

Hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes in Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana have all seen Team Rubicon in action despite restrictions on deployment because of stringent COVID protocols.

“We do mitigations like this primarily in the west, but not a lot on the east. But there is a need here, obviously. What we do with Brad and his folks is not only develop the skill set, but also the familiarity so we can all work together,” Trahan said.

He noted 123 people signed up to work the Draper Mountain Estates project. “To drive up to 5 hours to work for a day and a half. I came down from Arlington. Out of the 123 I could only pick 25,” said Trahan.

“We’re a military founded organization. They’re familiar with roughing it. Our folks sleep on the ground. Same ol’ stuff as the military. Which is part of the reason it appeals to us, quite frankly. Last night I’m sleeping on my cot and it collapses. I thought, ‘well, I’ve been here before,’” Trahan joked.

Every prospective member of Team Rubicon must pass a background investigation, usually at their own expense before they can be a member and deploy to events like last weekend’s.

“All of our people are pretty solid individuals,” Trahan said.

The name Team Rubicon comes from the military.

“Jake Wood, our founder and CEO, and the others who were in Haiti were thinking about a name. And it actually goes back to military history. Crossing the Rubicon was always that moment of no return. And they said, ‘we’ve hit that moment,’” Trahan said.

“Good organization and I’m really proud to be a member of it,” said Trahan.

For more information, visit TeamRubicon.org

Some of the 25 members of Team Rubicon involved in last weekend’s wildfire mitigation efforts on Draper Mountain Estates. Five years ago, the area was victim to a wildfire. (Mike Williams/The Patriot)