Bureau of Land Management

Gary (left) receives BLM's National Safety Award
Gary Cardoza

State Fire and Aviation Equipment and Operations Specialist
California State Office

"I wouldn't change a thing. I'd do it all over again."

Gary traces his career in firefighting back to 1964's Coyote Fire in Santa Barbara County.  "My mom picked me up at high school and told me we were going to take water and candy bars to the firefighters'" he said. "She pulled right up to the line."  When Gary saw the Los Prietos Hotshots unloading from their rigs, he knew that's what he wanted to do.

His earlier years in firefighting kept him moving around:  first as a firefighter with the Los Padres National Forest, then as an engine foreman with the Toiyabe National Forest. He went on to become a smokejumper in Missoula, Montana, then headed back to Toiyabe. At Sequoia National Forest he worked as a fuels module foreman, then as an engine foreman and fire management officer. After stints in Helena, Montana and a return to Sequoia National Forest, he came to BLM as the district fleet manager, stationed at the Bakersfield field office. He then moved on to his current position in BLM's California state office, coordinating and overseeing California's fire fleet and fire facilities.

After 35 years in federal service, Gary is retired January 3rd -- but not before receiving a national safety award for innovations he has brought to BLM's fire program over the past 18 years.  In fact, that has been Gary's focus throughout his BLM career: keeping firefighters safe, by making sure they have the proper equipment and training.

Also important, was getting BLM California firefighters parity with the U.S. Forest Service, through upgrading their position descriptions. And he takes pride in establishing new firefighting facilities and upgrades to existing facilities.

Still, Gary lists as a "biggest accomplishment," his kids. Son Brian, 32, continues the firefighting tradition as a Hotshot superintendent in Idaho. His family also includes daughter Karen, 31,  with Child Protective Services in Tuolumne County, Jared, 16, and Tessa, 14.

Through it all has been his wife, Heidi. "There's a good woman beside this man," he said, and he appreciates her support.

 During his free time, Gary enjoys being with his family, and hunting deer, elk and upland birds. Take some time to enjoy that, Gary - you've earned it!

For more information concerning this feature story, contact Gary Cardoza by telephone -retired- or by e-mail
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