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Fires make public property walk off

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Dear HCN,

Forest fires do indeed cost a lot of money (HCN, 3/6/95). Although it is a drop in the bucket compared to leasing a heavy helicopter, one simple way to cut costs would be to prevent theft.

Last fall, I'm disgusted to say, I was involved with a National Guard unit employed by the Agriculture Department. As a sergeant I expected to see privates trying to stash away the occasional souvenir - the yellow Nomex shirt was a big stealer.

I was infuriated to find out that other senior officers had set their "goals' much higher. Among the many items that disappeared were a propane 100-cup coffee maker, an entire camp kitchen, including the tables and chairs, heaters, lanterns, and tents.

For not caring to participate I was called stupid. Management also got their share of the pie by being overstaffed and then authorizing hours for themselves that they did not work.

In a letter to that particular forest management I suggested the following when dealing with the Guard:

* Not give them the time of day unless they sign for it first;

* Mark with indelible markers or stamps anything they want back;

* Search departing vehicles;

* Provide a Forest Service employee to instigate actions that need to be taken and demand accountability for hours worked.

In 1988, I served as a crew boss with the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Area near Pinedale, Wyo. Government property disappeared very rapidly but showed up quite quickly once the authorities started to search private vehicles. Trust in God if you must, but suspect all others.

T.V. McCarren

Hartsel, Colorado

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