Lolo Forest’s fire management officer named No. 1 in nation

Laura Ward, the Lolo National Forest’s fire management officer, was named the nation’s top FMO recently. (Courtesy photo)

By Missoula Current

Laura Ward, the Lolo National Forest’s Fire Management Officer, was recently named Forest Service Fire Management Officer of the Year by a national committee and was honored in a ceremony here in Missoula on April 19.

The National Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO) of the Year Committee selected Ward from a field of nominees from across the nation, representing all other Forest Service regions and national forests.

Ward, who has worked in western Montana for 18 years, is responsible for managing and implementing the fire operations across the five Ranger Districts and approximately two million acres of the Lolo National Forest.

She helped develop and implement several regional and national programs in 2016 as well as providing oversight and leadership for the Lolo National Forest’s Critical Incident Management Plan, an organizational framework that identifies roles, responsibilities and required actions for responding to critical incidents.

Ward was recognized in the award for her professional skills and leadership in working closely with multiple partners and agencies to manage a complex program involving fire operations, fuels management and air quality.

“Laura has made significant contributions at the local, regional and national level to advance the fire program,” said Tim Garcia, forest supervisor for the Lolo National Forest. “Her leadership is exceptional and the strength of the relationships she has developed with our local and state partners has been instrumental in our success.

Ward began her Forest Service career in Lowell, Oregon as a GS-1 employee on a Brush Disposal crew on the Willamette National Forest in 1985 and later worked as a firefighter on three Districts on that Forest until 1989. She then worked on the Umpqua National Forest as a fuels technician – her first permanent appointment as a GS-7 — and then with the Wolf Creek Job Corps in a “detailed overhead position” with the Job Corps Hotshot Crew.

She was promoted to the fuels assistant fire management Officer (AFMO) in the mid-nineties and later worked as the Fuels/Suppression AFMO for the Umpqua National Forest. In 1999 she was selected as a District FMO for the Ninemile Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest and she worked on that district for 11 years.  In 2010, Ward was selected as the Lolo National Forest FMO, located at the Forest Supervisor’s Office at Fort Missoula.

“The award was a total surprise,” said Ward. “I’m honored to have been nominated and selected.  The best part of the job is all the great people you get to work with and there are many individuals deserving of this type of recognition.”