“Wally is respected nationally in the wildland firefighting community,” said Connie Cummins, Forest Supervisor for the Fremont-Winema National Forest. “His work ethic is something we all strive to achieve and his natural leadership ability is something we all wish we had.”
Ochoa has been the lead chainsaw operator on the Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew since 1995. His dedication to the crew is evident by his record of maintaining his physical fitness in the off-season; sharing his chainsaw experience; caring for the needs of his crew members; recognizing accomplishments and efforts of others, taking responsibility for his actions; resolving conflict tactfully; and bringing attention to hazards and concerns with crew members and supervisors.
“To see him come back year after year and day after day motivated, fit, and ready to work his hardest has made him a role model for countless crew members over the years,” said Dave Lilly, Winema Interagency Hotshot Superintendent.
In 2014, Ochoa was severely injured by a falling tree while working on the Freezeout Ridge Fire in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Idaho. He was transported to a heli-spot via long-line under a helicopter then flown to the Freezeout Ridge heli-base where an air ambulance was waiting to fly him to Boise, Idaho.
“I’m not a firefighter for the recognition. I’m one because of the crew and other firefighters I work with. They are my family,” said Ochoa. “It’s because of each and every one of them working together that I am here today!”
Still recovering from his injuries, Ochoa will not be able to fight fire this summer. He has made great strides in his recovery and even ran a half marathon, but Ochoa and his doctors agree he still has room for improvement. The outpouring of support from the wildland firefighting community has really helped with his recovery.
“I fully intend to return to firefighting for one more season,” said Ochoa. “My goal is to be on the Winema Interagency Hotshots for a total of 20 seasons.”
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s (NWCG) Annual Lead by Example Award was created to honor Paul Gleason, a wildland firefighter whose career spanned several decades. Gleason is best known for developing the LCES (Lookout, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) concept that became the foundation of wildland firefighter safety. The award highlights Gleason’s influence on and contribution to wildland fire management, while honoring those who demonstrate the spirit of leadership for which he was known.
The entire Winema Interagency Hotshot Crew was the recipient of the NWCG’s 2014 Wildfire Emergency Medical Service Award for their emergency response when Ochoa was injured. Medically trained crew members immediately performed a patient assessment and determined the significance of the injuries and the threat they posed. Other crew members constructed an emergency medical landing zone.
The three members of the Winema Interagency Hotshots who provided Ochoa with immediate medical care was also awarded the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Regional Forester’s 2014 Wildland Fire Team Safety Award for Excellence. The actions taken by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) Jeremy Surprenant and James Evans and former paramedic Philip Capurro ensured Ochoa’s condition and treatment needs were appropriately evaluated and emergency care was provided in a timely manner.
“The entire Fremont-Winema National Forest family is thankful to our Winema Interagency Hotshots for their care of Wally,” said Margaret David Bailey, Klamath District Ranger. “Having Wally back at work is the best possible outcome.”