“I have been in and out of Beeville my entire life,” said Craig Olson, who works for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “My grandmother lives here.
“My aunt still lives here.
“My cousin was born and raised here.
“We have a ranch between here and George West, and that is where I live now.”
Olson moved to Boerne from Corpus Christi at 14 with his family.
Off to college
He graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station with a wildlife and fisheries bachelor of science degree.
“I got into wildfire (fighting) during my internship,” he said. “I was interning at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
“We popped a couple of wildfires, and after that I was hooked.”
Love of the outdoors
That interest stayed with him through the years, as did his love of the outdoors.
“For about three years after college, I was a seasonal wildland firefighter,” he said.
After college, he worked for the National Parks Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and also as an EMT in San Antonio.
“Then this job came available, and here I am,” he said.
It’s clearly evident that Olson is one who enjoys teaching others and educating them.
“I had a guy tell me once when I was a firefighter that I needed a job where I could go around and talk to people,” Olson said laughing. “That is what a lot of my job is — going around and talking to various volunteer fire departments.”
As the regional fire coordinator, his area covers 12 counties, including Bee, Refugio, Live Oak and McMullen counties.
Robert Bridge, county emergency management coordinator, was pleased to have Olson in the office right down from his.
“I think he will be a great asset to Bee County,” Bridge said. “He seems like a very nice young man and willing to help in whatever way he can.”
David Morgan, who was emergency manager when Olson was hired, introduced him to commissioners saying, “Craig has some strong family ties to the area here. He has kind of milled around all over, but he finally got back home, and we are glad to have him.”
Meeting the volunteers
Olson said that one of the most important parts of his job is developing relationships with the numerous volunteer departments around the area.
But, he adds, he also wants to meet the community members to help educate them on fire safety.
“The more knowledge we can get out there to help educate people, the better,” he said.
Fire season approaches
While he won’t take credit for it, ever since he started, the county has received enough showers to keep the grass green and the fire danger low.
“Winter fire season is coming,” he warned.
“It is not like up north, where you have a coating of snow on the ground and it stays until spring.
“Texas has a very vigorous winter fire season.”
Here to help
Olson stressed that it isn’t his job to take over when fires or other emergencies happen.
“I am not a licensed peace officer,” he said. “I cannot carry a gun. I don’t even have a (concealed handgun license).”
His job, he said, is to help out and bring in state resources such as equipment and personnel when needed and requested.
“We don’t come in and take over. We come in and interface with the local agencies to get them what they need,” he said.
“But if you don’t have the relationships already in place with these chiefs you are dealing with, it makes it that much harder.”
Young but experienced
To those who meet him, Olson doesn’t have the gruff, outward appearance of a seasoned firefighter. In fact, his youthful appearance can be quite deceiving.
But, even at 30 years old, he still has more experience than many.
“The biggest fire I was ever on was in Georgia in 2007,” he said.
“That was my first fire and the biggest I was ever on.
“It was over 500,000 acres.
“It was across two state lines and most of the Okefenokee Swamp burned.”
Olson said that smaller fires, like what is seen around this area, have different challenges than the bigger ones.
“One of the things about the big, massive fires... if you are a boots-on-the-ground person, you are a small part of a larger role. You don’t see a whole lot past your section of fire.”
For volunteers fighting fires of an acre to 100, it is the unknown that poses the biggest risk and challenge.
“They show up on these fires, and they don’t have an incident command ready to plug them in,” he said. “They have to get in and get the job done based on what we see.
“That type of stuff is lot more difficult.”
Praise for departments
Having been on the job nearly two months now, Olson has had a chance to meet many of the volunteers in the area.
“I have been real impressed with how professional most of the fire departments are,” he said. “They come in. They constantly maintain their equipment. They are constantly drilling.
“One of the things that has really impressed me is the mutual aid,” he said.
“If one of the fire departments in the area starts to have a fire that gets beyond them, they put out a call for mutual aid, and fire departments from all over the area will come and help them out. The amount of cooperation in this area is really incredible.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.