Our Protectors

We don’t usually think about them until we need them. And by that point, we really need them. Police, fire, search and rescue, U.S. Coast Guard, advocates for children—they all step in at times of crisis.For some, like those who fight wildfires, the work is intensely physical. For others, like search-and-rescue, it can be highly specialized—picture rescuing someone on a rock ledge with ropes and a litter. Or our protectors might need a high degree of technological and psychological knowhow, like the police detective and children’s advocate who help protect kids from online predators and other criminals. In many cases, whenever our protectors get dressed for work, they are preparing to put themselves in harm’s way to help people they probably don’t even know. On the next pages, we profile some of our North Sound protectors to find out how, and why, they do what they do.

The alarming smoke that lingered over several summer days this year in the North Sound has drawn focus on wildfires and those who battle them. Meet Jordan Pollack. He’s has been fearlessly fighting fires for over 40 years. He joined the U.S. Forest Service’s Youth Conservation Corps in the late 1970s in Port Townsend, working with program’s fire crew, and was hooked. He’s one of the thousands of firefighters in Washington that spend weeks away from home, selflessly battling dangerous wildfires in order to protect us and our forestland. He’s made a career of fighting wildfires, and now, is training others to do the same.

Pollack’s resume reads like a man who fears nothing. He served with the with U.S. Forest Service for 15 years as a leader with the wildfire crew of the National Park Service, with area fire departments as their chief and engine captain, and as a helicopter rappeler. He started a wildfire training and consulting business in 2000, and is currently a command officer with Skagit County.

To be wildfire certified, firefighters must complete training and receive an Incident Qualification Card (also called a red card). This involves 36 hours of intense training conducted over the course of two weekends. Pollack works with fire crews from Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan and Snohomish to obtain this red card. During training firefighters learn how to control wildland fires, specifically: tactics, strategies, and safety. Pollack teaches crews the LCES approach: lookout, communication, escape plan, safety zone.

In the 40 years he’s been battling wildfires, he’s only had a few moments where he actually felt fear, what he calls “trigger points”—something happens in the course of fighting a fire that causes the squad leader’s heart to skip a beat. Pollack was leading a crew of 20 in a Colorado wildfire when he had to get the entire team to a safety zone because the fire was outrunning them. “The weather turned quickly and luckily we had LCES in place, so we were able to escape, but yes, [it was] a bit scary,“ Pollack says.

One element of Pollack’s training is to educate teams on how to help their communities create defensible space. “It is the number-one way residents can protect their property from fires.” This past July, Pollack helped run operations for a wildland fire that threatened eight homes in Skagit County near Anacortes. The fire came within 50 feet of three houses, but they were saved. “This fire was a very good example of the importance of ensuring defensible space around structures, proper fire-resistant construction, and maintaining a coiled garden hose with brass twist nozzle for reach and accuracy,” Pollack says.

So why does he do it? Why has he put himself in harm’s way again and again for all these years? Why has he devoted his life to protecting the land and training others to do the same? “I enjoy the helping aspect of the job, the teamwork and comradery, the satisfaction of overcoming a challenging and helping communities. It’s beyond self.”


  1. Clear a 30-foot perimeter around your home. Rake up twigs and remove brush.
  2. Create spacing between plants. Large clumps of bushes or hedges are more likely to flare up and spread quickly.
  3. Keep a red fire hose ready to go. Coil up a 25 ft. red garden hose specifically for use if firebrands or embers land near your home.
  4. Remove build-up of needles and leaves from gutter.
  5. Keep tree branches trimmed at least 10 feet from chimneys.

To continue reading Our Protector feature series, click here for the next story.

"In the 40 years he’s been battling wildfires, he’s only had a few moments where he actually felt fear, what he calls “trigger points.”"