Mottern Calls it a Day


A person sees a lot of things when he spends nearly three decades with the same employer.

Turns out, he does a lot of things too.

Bruce Mottern described his time spent with the Idaho Department of Lands as being a jack of all trades, master of none. In addition to fighting fire, Mr. Mottern served as engine boss, engine/dozer strike team leader, fire investigator, an instructor and heavy equipment operator. He also dabbled a bit on the timber side of the agency, helping to inspect state roads and install culverts for the past seven years.

Bruce Mottern retired Friday from the Idaho Department of Lands. Mr. Mottern worked with the agency for nearly three decades.

Bruce Mottern retired Friday from the Idaho Department of Lands. Mr. Mottern worked with the agency for nearly three decades.

Mr. Mottern is right about being a jack of all trades, but he also mastered plenty.

With nearly each new job description came years of experience; he worked as fire investigator from 1998, and he served as heavy equipment operator and worked as an instructor since 2001.

Mr. Mottern retired Thursday from the IDL’s St. Joe Fire Protective District, the agency he started his career with in 1967.

“My first summer I worked three days a week as part of the brush crew and twice a week as a smokechaser,” he said. “In total I worked 30 fire seasons. I was a seasonal for a lot of years, but when you look as the total number of hours, it equals 26 years.”

Mr. Mottern started teaching in 1998 and developed a course to help firefighters inspect equipment for use in wildfires. At around the same time, he started working as fire investigator for the state and said that in the beginning investigative work was pretty basic.

“But in 2001 they came out with a formal course, which provided a national template,” he said. “This helped you if, as a fire investigator, you needed to go to trial and have your investigation stand up in court.”

Although he was born and raised in St. Maries and has spent his career with the agency’s local office, Mr. Mottern has fought fire throughout the country, including Alaska, Florida, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Utah and Nevada.

Traveling to fight fire is a recent change in job description, which Mr. Mottern explained is mandated by the increase in fire activity. He said wildland firefighters are now being used as a national resource and are expected to travel.

In addition to personnel mobility, changes in gear and improvements to engines are some of the improvements he has seen throughout the course of his career.

“When I first started, we basically wore blue jeans and t-shirts to fight fire. We also have a fire shelter now, that’s something we never had before,” he said. “And engines have gotten considerably better. We also utilize other types of heavy equipment, such as excavators and feller-bunchers.”

But there is plenty about the job that has not changed.

“Much of the equipment we use is the same,” Mr. Mottern said. “We still use a Pulaski. We’re still using dozers.”

In addition to his time with the IDL, he volunteered with the St. Maries Fire Department from 1979-2001, serving as captain during that time. Although he enjoys woodworking, he has no immediate plans for retirement. He does, however, expect his wife Cindy to keep him busy with a list of things needing done.

“I’m sure she has a few things lined up for me to do,” Mr. Mottern said.

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