Jakob Markwardt ’19 Fights Wildfires in Oregon

By Justin Lutes, September 29, 2020
Former pole vaulter continues his career as a wildland firefighter.

After graduating from IC, Jakob Markwardt ’19 didn’t want to take a typical path. So, armed with a minor in outdoor adventure leadership, the former track & field standout for the Bombers went from the South Hill to Oregon as a wildland firefighter.
 
Since heading west, Markwardt, the son of men's and women's swimming & diving head coach Kevin Markwardt, has since joined a hotshot crew. Hotshots are tasked with controlling the most challenging parts of a wildfire.
 
Markwardt became interested in firefighting during his time at IC thanks to a high school friend. He trained by running, biking, and hiking steep trails while carrying kettlebells in a backpack.

“We travel all over the country, and no matter where you go, there's something that's going to kick your butt, whether it's the heat, humidity, steepness, mosquitoes, poison oak or heavy smoke."

Jakob Markwardt ’19

“[It] was the first time I had ever really thought about it as a potential job,” he said. “Growing up on the east coast, wildfires just aren't a part of the collective consciousness like they are in the west. After minoring in outdoor adventure leadership, I knew that I wanted to work outdoors and explore the western United States. Firefighting seemed like a good way to make some money, get out of my hometown and see some cool places.”

On days when there’s a fire, the hours can be long. Days typically start at 6 a.m., when Markwardt and the rest of his crew will wake up — often in a remote location such as a baseball field or parking lot. After going about their morning routine and eating breakfast, they’ll head out to the fire line.

That’s where they’ll spent at least 10 hours, attempting to contain the perimeter of the fire by cutting a fuel break with chainsaws and digging a small trench through the middle of it. Another strategy is to burn the fuel between a fire and a solid feature, like a road. It’s exhausting, unpredictable work.

“For some reason, no matter how miserable I am at 4 p.m. and how exhausted I feel, by the time I am eating dinner and joking with my crew mates I feel like the day wasn't too bad.”

Jakob Markwardt ’19

“Most days you wake up with no idea what you will be doing that day. It is not uncommon to not know where you are going to sleep that night until you arrive there,” Markwardt said. “Sometimes, we work pretty hard, sometimes we work really hard. Then we eat, sleep and do it again.

“The most challenging experiences are getting through the midst of the hottest, longest, fastest paced days,” he continued. “We travel all over the country, and no matter where you go, there's something that's going to kick your butt, whether it's the heat, humidity, steepness, mosquitoes, poison oak or heavy smoke.”

Despite the long hours, uncertainty of the day, overall dangerous nature of the job and other obstacles along the way, Markwardt still enjoys what he is doing and the time he spends with his crew mates.

“For some reason, no matter how miserable I am at 4 p.m. and how exhausted I feel, by the time I am eating dinner and joking with my crew mates I feel like the day wasn't too bad,” he said.