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Ranger is a natural to be Forest Service's Employee of the Year

April 19, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - As long as he can remember, Ric Lillard has liked nothing better than being in the woods.

"I grew up hiking and backpacking as a teen," Lillard said.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service employee recently was named Maryland's 2004 Forest Service Employee of the Year.

Lillard, 46, a Thurmont, Md., native, lives in Clear Spring with his wife and two children. He is assigned to the four counties of Western Maryland - Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick.

"I had a biology teacher at Catoctin High School who encouraged me to join the forest service," Lillard said. "I took that advice ... I get to be outdoors and get paid at the same time."

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Lillard completed the forest technology program at Allegany Community College, earning his associate's degree. He applied for a job with the Maryland Forest Service in 1978 and first was stationed in Howard and Montgomery counties for about 18 months.

For the next 11 years, Lillard was assigned to Frederick County. From 1992-94, he was a regional fire specialist for all four Western Maryland counties.

"I trained volunteer fire companies," Lillard said.

The work was very labor-intensive, since the tools used in fighting woods fires are specialized, he said.

In addition to training, Lillard served as a contact for volunteer fire companies when they were in the market for equipment and vehicles to improve their ability to fight such fires.

"We can provide surplus military vehicles like four-wheel drive trucks," Lillard said, noting those vehicles often come from bases such as Letterkenny in nearby Franklin County, Pa. "I'm working with the Mount Aetna Volunteer Fire Co. right now," he said.

In 1996, Lillard's agency became the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service.

On a regular basis, Lillard's duties center around forest fire prevention and control. He also works with private landowners, advising them on forest management on their lands.

"I'm based at Green Ridge in Allegany County but travel to other counties as needed," he said.

The spring fire season, which is just beginning, is by far the busiest time of the year. People who plan to burn yard waste, branches and the like need to be particularly careful and follow the rules, Lillard said. "They need to recognize the fire danger," he said.

What often happens is someone will get up on Saturday morning and decide to burn off their garden in preparation for spring planting.

"The wind will then pick up and they lose control of the fire," Lillard said.

One can only burn from 4 p.m. to midnight - when winds are calmer - if in or near a wooded area, he said. And in any case of open burning, the person should notify the emergency fire and rescue dispatch center in that county ahead of time.

"If everyone would do this, it would save fire companies a lot of work," Lillard said.

Lillard said he was notified in mid-March that he won the award. He was nominated by Monte Mitchell, the Maryland state fire supervisor in Annapolis.

In that recommendation, it was pointed out that Lillard in 2004 prepared a successful hazard mitigation grant to upgrade four forest service automated fire weather stations to satellite technology.

This technology will enable Maryland to provide fire weather data for input into national weather products such as the national fire danger forecast maps that are used by fire agencies and the media in seeking current fire information.

Lillard also catalogued past fire history for the Green Ridge station and utilized state-of-the art fire software to produce the first fire danger pocket card, which serves as a reliable indicator for large fire potential in the Allegany County vicinity.

Additionally, he successfully completed certification as an instructor/evaluator, allowing students taking DNR courses to receive Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute credits. And he utilized funding to purchase and outfit every western region fire company with fire suppression hand tools.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the state agency responsible for managing more than 446,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality-of-life benefits.

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