Sam Espinoza marks 50 years of federal fire fighting service
Fifty years ago, in 1964, a young man named Sam Espinoza was drafted by the Forest Service to fight fire while living in Price.
Sam was only 19 years old at the time and was one of over 500 others drafted into the Forest Service out of Carbon and Emery Counties.
He was assigned to fight the Bear's Ears Fire in Huntington Canyon. Sam had no firefighting experience prior to being drafted.
After being drafted, Sam was hired by the Bureau of Land Management as a seasonal firefighter in 1965. For the next 35 years, Sam fought fire on the line including the Milford Flat Fire, Utah's largest recorded wildfire to date. Sam also managed the fire cache in Price, UT while working for the BLM.
Sam remembers having a close call with danger on the fire line while fighting a fire in Idaho where he was a Division Supervisor. A spotter radioed to Sam that there was fire beneath them. Sam thought the spotter had contacted the wrong crew until he went down the hill to look over the edge where flames almost hit him in the face. Sam rushed back to his division and ordered them to relocate to an area where they could begin creating a safety zone.
Sam and his division stayed in a river for over 8 hours as the fire went around them. Although it was a scary time, Sam's instinct to go and verify what the spotter had seen, saved all of their lives that day.
Sam retired from the BLM in 2006 as a Hazmat/Safety Coordinator with the BLM but continued to serve as a single resource as a Supply Unit Leader for fires during the summer.
Sam spent his 19th birthday fighting the Bear's Ears Fire and fellow crew members presented him with a cake. Ironically, Sam spent his 50th anniversary of firefighting on a fire assignment where he was given a cake as well by fellow crew members.
Although Sam is now 69 years old, he plans to continue to support and work on fires until he can't do it anymore.
As Sam reflects on his last 50 years of fire, he says that one of the biggest changes that he has noticed in the fire world is safety.
When Sam started, he was given just a pair of gloves and told to go fight fire. Now, firefighters are trained extensively and given the proper Personal Protection Equipment necessary to do their jobs. Sam has met people from all over the world fighting fire which he says has kept him coming back year after year.