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ORIGINAL PROJECT BLOG has over 200 best pictures — the 30 pics exhibited in this professional blog portfolio are representative of G. BALLARD's successful blogging style (all photography, design, writing by Gary G. Ballard, a professional photojournalist and Web publisher based in San Diego, California) —

THE "DIRTY DOZEN" (class #12) — BIA-Sycuan Fire and Aviation Academy #12 marches in formation, 0800 hours, April 22, 2009 — all remaining 18 fire-fighting students pictured were graduated at Sycuan Resort, El Cajon, CA, in San Diego County, three days after this photograph was taken DOWNLOAD HIGH-RESOLUTION FIRE ACADEMY POSTER.

BOOT CAMP TRAINING — Elite wildland firefighters need super-human stamina and upper-body strength — the academy program is designed to enforce strict Marine Corps style military discipline and show the cadets how to break individual preconceived barriers of mental and physical limitations through teamwork and fierce group pressure — DI Castro, a former U.S. Marine, towers over special forces fire cadets and barks out orders to the "nasties."

REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE — Sycuan aviation academy students trained with San Diego City Copter 1 and Copter 2 fire-fighting helicopters at Montgomery Field Helibase in San Diego, California — Supt. Mendez (GE IHC) leads a group of wildland fire students away from an idling fire helicopter, Day 19, April 23rd — DOWNLOAD 10-INCH HELICOPTER TRAINING POSTER.

TOO CLOSE, Day 11 — A sharp-eyed Sycuan instructor, Captain Hopkins, spotted this large southern Pacific rattlesnake as a student was about to step beside it during a hectic hose lay up a steep, badly eroded mountain trail.



Wildland fire-fighting experts said they believe the rattlesnake had been lying dormant in a deep rut in the trail and the flood of hose water forced it to flee its hiding place for safety — luckily the day was a bit chilly and the highly-venomous snake wasn't nasty — it did not even shake and rattle its tail as a warning or strike at the fire fighters during the entire capture-release process.

Sycuan staff Firefighter Jaks was able to capture the dangerous snake, release it unharmed away from the training area and the academy resumed wildland fire training on the rural San Diego mountain.

My still camera was halfway up the mountain so I only got the initial photo sequence on video, but below I posted a sharp, high-resolution BIA safety-training poster of firefighter holding the giant rattlesnake.

Other popular names for the southern Pacific rattlesnake, include black diamond rattlesnake, black (diamond) rattler, gray diamond back, mountain rattler, Pacific rattler, San Diego rattler, timber rattler — in any case is is best to avoid contact with these venomous animals.

RECRUIT HEAGNEY is a 26-year-old Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005 OIF 2005.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION — When this pic was taken, Heagney and his fellow recruits had just wrapped up 52 continuous hours of extremely demanding Special Operations (Coyote Tactics) cutting fire lines on the San Diego mountains.

SPECIAL NIGHT OPS — Here's where I found the fire academy on April 14th at 0400 hours — hunkered down atop MF Mountain after cutting line all night. DOWNLOAD HIGH-RESOLUTION BIA POSTER for more information about this awesome professional fire-fighting picture.

MORNING HIKE — Deputy Chief Villalpando leads the SYCFD fire academy down off a steep Dehesa Valley mountain — DOWNLOAD HIGH RESOLUTION BIA POSTER.

TEAMWORK — A recruit fire fighter crew walks a freshly-cut fire line during Day Four of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Academy.


The BIA-Sycuan firefighting academy program is a tough 21-day Marine Corps style “boot camp” school for professional entry-level firefighter certifications and job placement within the federal, tribal, state and local fire services.

Former Marine Corps DI (professional drill instructors) take charge of 30 individual civilian "nasties," weed out the best of the best, and transform them into a team of gung-ho can-do fire fighters.

The Sycuan-BIA program uses a steep 800-foot California mountain as a metaphor to overcome and conquer pre-conceived notions of individual limitations through teamwork, camaraderie and fierce group evolvement of goals.

Successful completion of the Sycuan fire program qualifies graduates for many professional employment opportunities, including full-time and seasonal jobs with the Sycuan Tribal Fire Department (SYFD), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and jobs within the federal forest fire service, including top government agencies like the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) hotshot crews working nation wide.

Please CONTACT THE SYCUAN FIRE DEPT for more information about applying to the best fire-fighting academy program in the world.

PREVIOUS Sycuan-BIA fire academy blogs by G. BALLARD in San Diego:


San Diego fire-fighting students posed for professional photo with their BIA-NIFC aviation instructor, Golden Eagles Flycrew instructors, and drill instructors — DOWNLOAD 10-INCH FIREMENS SCRAPBOOK.


"I want the best — only the best can be fire fighters at Sycuan."

WELCOME — Sycuan Fire Chief Hank Murphy (Kumeyaay) founded the Sycuan Fire Department SFD in 1974, including the elite Golden Eagles Hotshots, and he has served on the Sycuan tribal council for more than 30 years.

Sycuan Golden Eagles Hotshots Air & Wildland Division 2008 fire season pictures — Golden Eagles represent the "special forces" of modern fire fighters units.

Sycuan Fire Deputy Chief Mitch Villalpando and Sycuan Fire Division Chief William "Bill" Clayton — pictured Day 12 during a CERT training exercise — Chief Clayton has more than 50 years in the fire service.

Drill Instructor Solis, Williams and Castro (all former Marines). The fourth Sycuan drill instructor, DI Bowen — photographed Day Three.

Drill Instructor Williams is a highly-experienced U.S. Marine Drill Instructor who lead 15 platoons in Marine Corps boot camp during his military career.

Solis and Castro are the team's "pit bulls" (as the recruits will attest) and they provide the backbone of the Marine Corps-style bootcamp discipline.

RECRUIT Sellers, 18, the youngest cadet in the academy.

FIRE FIGHTER Howie, Sycuan instructor.

RECRUIT Heagney hanging in there after more than 60 hours sleep deprivation and two hard days and night cutting line on the Sycuan mountain.


DI Bowen gets the recruits ready and in formation for a planned early-morning hike.

The academy wildland students meet up on scene with Deputy Chief Villalpando and he introduces them to "his" mountain, Heaven's Gate.

The academy heads off up the Dehesa mountain...the group crossed over the peak and onto a higher mountain top.

This wild California deer bolted by the webmaster on this hike — to get these kinds of nature shots it helps to be fast on the draw and have a steady hand to pan with the fast movement all the while keeping the animal in focus and properly exposed.

MORNING HIKE — Deputy Chief Villalpando leads the SYCFD fire academy down off a steep Dehesa Valley mountain — DOWNLOAD HIGH RESOLUTION BIA POSTER.


MOBILE ATTACK — BIA wildland firefighter students are taught mobile attack procedures at the best San Diego fire academy — pictured on the Sycuan Indian Reservation using a state-of-the-art Sycuan water tender.

APACHE — Recruit Armstrong, from White Mountain Indian Reservation, sprays a fog stream as the nozzle man during mobile pumping exercises at the elite Sycuan Training Center.

Firefighter Recruit Armstrong (Fort Apache, White Mountain) is pictured spraying a wide fog stream from a high-pressure fire hose.


The night was partially cloudy with just over a half full moon when the photographer arrived on scene, 0400 hours.

NIGHT OPERATIONS — Here's where I found the fire academy on April 14th at 0400 hours — hunkered down atop MF Mountain after cutting line all night. DOWNLOAD HIGH-RESOLUTION BIA POSTER for more information about this awesome professional fire-fighting picture.

The remote mountain top was quite chilly and the smart recruits snuggled together to keep warm in the damp morning air and sweaty clothing.

Wildland crew hikes back down MF Mountain and on to their new job site to continue their second day of Night Operations at their new assignment on the other side of the Sycuan Indian Reservation.

The fire crews arrived at scene on the Sycuan land and began clearing a wide fire line in preparation for the 2009 fire season in East County San Diego.

Many recruits bring valuable expertise to the federal fire programs, here a trained Sycuan medic tends to a fellow recruit's blistered feet.

CERT Training at Sycuan

Sycuan reservation CERT participants (in green helmets and orange safety vests) pulled the recruits out of a simulated rollover accident of a bus — above two female disaster specialists help a "lightly injured, disoriented" recruit walk to a pre-designated safe area.

Sycuan first responders are assisted by Sycuan tribal CERT participants carrying an injured recruit on an emergency stretcher.

DAY 21 (graduation), April 25th

DOCUMENTARY FILM PRESENTATION — The Sycuan Resort was packed for the viewing of the multimedia presentation — a fire-fighting academy documentary movie by Gary G. Ballard — the final DVD will be released in the next month or two — WATCH ALL SYCUAN FIRE MOVIES FREE ONLINE.

The graduation ceremony took place outside in the beautiful Sycuan Resort, formally Singing Hills Country Club.

Sycuan Kumeyaay tribal member Hank Murphy: Chief and founder of the Sycuan Fire Department, addressed the recruits and their families, thanked the academy staff, and declared the recruits "Firefighters."

The recruits — now officially certified "Firefighters" — received their academy certificates directly from Chief Murphy.

HERE is a professional blog on the first wildland deployment for the 2007 academy class fire season, including Mohawk haircuts (a Sycuan fire-fighting tradition. The rookie firefighters can cut their Mohawks only after their first fire).

DI Solis pictured congratulating the firemen directly after he dismissed them from the academy — you may notice Sycuan Firefighter Jorge Solis took off his game face and returned to his normal happy self.

NATIVE PRIDE — The Sycuan Tribal Fire Department encourages American Indian men and women to apply to the Sycuan academy program.

This is 30 of the 200 photos published in my ORIGINAL 2009 ACADEMY BLOG to view the top best 200 still pictures and watch original fire documentary FIRE DOCUMENTARY MOVIES shorts from this important fire-fighter Southern California safety-training project.


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