Ortlund's Job Has Him Putting Out Fires



He is one of the guys in green charged with keeping the residents of the Rim country safe this summer.

It is a rare occasion when Bob Ortlund, fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest, can take a minute to visit.

He would much rather spend his downtime with his family. In fact, he says time with his family, hunting and hiking with them, is his hobby and how he defines luxury.

Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Ortlund and his wife, Brenda, have three children, Sarah, 21, David, 19, and Breanna, 14.

Ortlund, 51, has been the ranger district's fire management officer for three years and also served as its assistant fire management officer 10 years ago.

He has been with the Forest Service since 1976, working in many of its fire operations. He started working with the Forest Service fire crews during the summers while he was in college at Northern Arizona University. The money he made helped with his college expenses.

Ortlund has been on a number of fire crews, including serving as chief of the Pleasant Valley Hot Shot crew and working with a helitack crew.

"I like working outdoors. I enjoy the challenges, both the physical challenge and fighting fires in the middle of nowhere and catching the fire. It's a rewarding career," he said. "It has its moments like any other. But it's good to be on the forest and make a difference by stopping a fire or making it a safer forest."

Yet, it is people, not nature, that inspire him. He said he is inspired by the people he sees everyday in the community, teachers, coaches, policemen, pastors.

"They're out there everyday, helping people everyday, working in the trenches all the time and doing it without recognition," Ortlund said.

And it was not the firefighting opportunities that brought him to Payson. He said he chose to make Payson his home because he likes the mountains and the community.

"The weather is not bad. The beauty of the area and the small community atmosphere make it a good place to raise kids," Ortlund said.

As for retirement, it is still a few years away, so he has not given those plans much thought. He said a career change is a possibility or perhaps working for a volunteer organization.

"I'm staying here until I retire, and then I don't know. This is still a real challenging job right now. I can make a difference to protect (the community) and prevent fires similar to the one we're having now (Rodeo-Chediski Fire). I want to be able to help make a difference in getting more work done in the forest to make it a safer, healthier environment for the community.

"Fire has been a part of the area long before us and will still be. I can help the community be more prepared to live with fire and not let them be so destructive as we see now," Ortlund said.

Among the things he sees as making a difference: thinning the forest on both private and public lands; and learning to live safer with the forest.

"I see an opportunity to really see more changes in the Rim area (forest) before I retire," he said.

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