Local Man Blazes a Trail to Firefighter of the Year Award

This year, the Six Rivers National Forest announced SoHum native Zach Fansler as the 2023 Firefighter of the Year and recipient of the Dale A. Mendes Award. Fansler, a Senior Firefighter for the Ukonom Hand Crew based out of the Salyer Station on the Lower Trinity Ranger District, is "known for his strong work ethic, dedication to caring for the land and serving people, and having integrity in all he does," according to a press release issued by Six Rivers. Redheaded Blackbelt has had the privilege of following Zach Fansler’s journey as a firefighter since we first discovered his photographs of the work he does in July of 2018.

Zacharie Fansler self-portrait.

This year, the Six Rivers National Forest announced SoHum native Zach Fansler as the 2023 Firefighter of the Year and recipient of the Dale A. Mendes Award. Fansler, a Senior Firefighter for the Ukonom Hand Crew based out of the Salyer Station on the Lower Trinity Ranger District, is “known for his strong work ethic, dedication to caring for the land and serving people, and having integrity in all he does,” according to a press release issued by Six Rivers. Redheaded Blackbelt has had the privilege of following Zach Fansler’s journey as a firefighter since we first discovered his photographs of the work he does in July of 2018.

Zach Fansler as the 2023 Firefighter of the Year

Zach Fansler center receiving the 2023 Dale A Mendes Firefighter of the Year award. [Photo from Six Rivers NF]

Entering his fourth year on the hand crew for Six Rivers, Fansler has served as a primary sawyer throughout his tenure there. According to Six Rivers NF, Zach “continually invests his time and energy into those around him by supporting and mentoring his fellow firefighters, regardless of their position or module. His commitment to duty, respect, integrity, and leadership are evident in the great work he does for his district, the Six Rivers National Forest, and the agency as a whole.”

McFarland Fire [Photo from Zacharie Fansler]

Hotshot grinning as the landscape flames around him on the McFarland Fire. [Photo by Zacharie Fansler]

“Zach’s motivation and passion are truly infectious. His actions, attitude, and work ethic have become an example of what right looks like for our employees,” said Bryan Lanning, District Fire Management Officer for the Lower Trinity Ranger District. “His willingness to be a leader and help the future of our agency is a great representation of not only himself but the crew, the Six Rivers National Forest, and our agency.”

Hotshots on the Monument Fire [Photo by Zacharie Fansler]

Tired hotshot on the Monument Fire [Photo by Zacharie Fansler]

Zach, who most recently was on a fire in Moab, Utah, told us that he gave credit to Southern Humboldt’s Briceland Fire for beginning his career in firefighting and particularly credited another of Humboldt County’s most respected firefighters, Diana Totten. He said her stories “made me apply to the forest service, and started my fire career in the FS on Klamath hotshots and now a permanent employee as a lead on Ukonom.”

Lost Coast hike. Relaxing with the Lost Coast spread out on either side. [Photos from Zacharie Fansler. See here for more.]

Zach Fansler at home on the Lost Coast hike. [Photo from Zacharie Fansler]

The Dale A. Mendes Award honors employees who consistently demonstrate the values that define a firefighting professional, including superior quality of work, outstanding work ethic, individual improvement, physical fitness, and leadership ability. These characteristics were epitomized by Dale A. Mendes during his service with the Six Rivers National Forest, and the award is a tribute to his legacy.

A hotshots' Foot on the Monument Fire [Photo by Zacharie Fansler]

A hotshots’ Foot on the Monument Fire [Photo by Zacharie Fansler]

“I’m very happy for Zach receiving his Dale A. Mendes Firefighter of the Year Award,” Yurok Fire Chief Rod Mendes explained to us. “As Dale’s father, I’m so proud of my son and his accomplishments and what he brought to the Six Rivers National Forest. I am even prouder of this award in his honor and the thoughtfulness of the Six Rivers staff. My heart breaks every time I think about Dale, and I miss him dearly. To know the impact he had on his coworkers and the fire community, having this award shows the kind of man and firefighter he was and is through this perpetual award.”

Dale A. Mendes

Memorial for Dale A. Mendes.

As we celebrate Zach Fansler’s achievements and honor Dale Mendes’ legacy, let’s  appreciate the bravery and community spirit that define these Humboldt heroes.

For more about Zach Fansler’s firefighting journey and to see his inspiring photos of the work he and his fellow firefighters do, you can revisit our earlier coverage here:

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16 Comments
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Marcia
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Marcia
24 days ago

Congratulations to Zach, with thanks to him for all of his work. I appreciate his acknowledgments to all who helped him learn his skills, and the legacy of Dale Mendels that his family has created. Let’s all be safe out there, and try to keep our firefighters out of danger.

Northern Forests
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Northern Forests
24 days ago

What a great story, and so nice to hear of locals contributing to something greater than themselves. Awesome job, Zach!

Last edited 24 days ago
spamned
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spamned
24 days ago

Congrats Zach. Many thanks for your efforts & integrity.

Entering a world of pain
Guest
Entering a world of pain
24 days ago

Thank you for your commitment and dedication toward keeping our communities safe.
Firefighters, school teachers and nurses should get paid a hell of a lot more and treated like the heroes they are.
And CEOs should get paid a hell of a lot less.

farfromputin
Member
farfromputin
24 days ago

A unique spirit it’s true. Also an accomplished photographer.

Alethia
Member
24 days ago

Gratitude! Great work, Zach, and thank you for the good news, Kym. Tree up and let the fire move through to do its job.

treeman53
Member
treeman53
24 days ago

What a great thing for Zach to receive this honor ,and my thoughts and prayers for Mr. Mendes and family who lost their son.What a proud way and honor for your son.Lost my boy in 08 on the Iron 44 with 7 others in the Trinities in a heli

treeman53
Member
treeman53
23 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Thanks Kym

Marie Campbell
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Marie Campbell
23 days ago

Congratulations on a very well deserved acknowledgment. Thank you for all that you do. With fire season here, please be careful.

Country Joe
Member
23 days ago

Congratulations Zach. That’s a wonderful achievement in such a tough and demanding career. Thanks for keeping us safe.

The Real Guest
Guest
The Real Guest
23 days ago

Congratulations, Zach!

That’s an honor that’s hard earned.

Way to represent!

Thank you for your exemplary efforts.

Stay Safe out there.

Antichrist
Guest
Antichrist
23 days ago

Oh look a story about a hero that has ……. neck tats !!!!! Who would have thought

Al L Ivesmatr
Guest
Al L Ivesmatr
23 days ago
Reply to  Antichrist

You would really freak out on seeing many of the natives in Tahiti and French Polynesia. Some of them have half their bodies, from head to toe, covered in the most amazing geometric patterns you will ever see. Beautiful, especially with their dark skin color, it looks completely natural. Ever wonder why the Polynesians and PNW native American tribes have many of the same geometric patterns used in their artwork? Hmmmm, wonder why that is…….Ocean cultures on double hulled canoes? Got lost and ended up on the Olympic Peninsula or in Humboldt Bay? Hmmm…..

Antichrist
Guest
Antichrist
23 days ago
Reply to  Al L Ivesmatr

I guess my comment was not understood . It was an attempt to poke some fun at all those who upon seeing mugshots make fun of face and neck tats . Here we have someone whom places others above self and has received a award for it , some might even call him a hero for his actions at times , and i have nothing but respect for what he does . That being said if it was a mugshot there would have been all sorts of comments based merely on hid tats on his neck tats

Jimi
Guest
Jimi
15 days ago

Right on…keep on keepin on.