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NIMO Atlanta Biographies

Joe Ferguson - Incident Commander
Joe's work experience consists of 31 years with the USDA Forest Service. From 1976 to 1978 he worked in timber and fire management on the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia. From 1978 to 1979 he worked in timber and fire management and on the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. After a second stint on the Jefferson National Forest from 1979 to 1981, he spent 1981 to 1985 on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico working in fire, timber, recreation, lands and minerals. From 1985 to 1993 he worked in fire and timber management on the Apalachicola National Forest in Florida. In 1993, Joe moved to a position as Fire Management Officer for the National Forest in Florida, moving up to the Fire Staff Officer position in late 1998. In October 2004 he moved to the Southern Region Office in Atlanta, GA in the position of Assistant Director, Operations, Fire & Aviation. In August 2006, Joe accepted his current position as IC of one of the first two National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) teams.

Joe has a B.S. degree in Forestry and Wildlife from Virginia Tech, and has completed some additional course work at both Oregon State University and New Mexico Tech. He is qualified as A Type I Incident Commander and Prescribed Fire Manager, and is also a trainee Area Commander.

James Merideth - Finance Section Chief
James began his career in 1973 as a laborer on the Ouachita National Forest in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1975, entered the Cooperative Education program as a Contract Specialist Trainee. He graduated in 1978 with a BS in Business Administration from Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He was reassigned as Contract Specialist to the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas in January of 1979. After 9 months, he accepted an Administrative Officer Position and transferred back to the Ouachita at Poteau Mountain Young Adult Conservation Corps in Mansfield, Arkansas. When the Center closed in 1981, he transferred to the George Washington National Forest in Harrisonburg, Virginia as Forest Contracting Officer and Property Management Officer. In 1984, due to family reasons, he transferred back to the Ouachita, as a Contract Specialist. He moved to the RO in June of 1990 as a Contracting Officer, doing a multitude of things, like planning the move to the new federal building, regional aviation contracting officer, etc. In 1998, he moved to Jackson, Mississippi as the Team Leader for the WOC, supervising 18 people doing procurement for five forests in R8 and one in R9. In June of 2002, he moved back to Hot Springs as Administrative Officer. In August 2006, was selected as the Finance Section Chief on the Atlanta, National Incident Management Team.

He has been involved in incident management since 1980 when he worked on a Type 2 team on the Ouachita National Forest and was the Finance Section Chief on the R8 Red Team from inception in 1986.

Gene Madden - Safety Officer
Gene is the safety officer on the Atlanta based National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) for the USDA Forest Service. The Atlanta team is one of two NIMO teams.

Prior to joining the Forest Service in June, Gene was with the Florida Division of Forestry for 16 years. For the past ten years, he was their division safety officer. While with the Division of Forestry he was responsible for a number of programs including wildfire safety, driving, EMS and worker compensation programs.

Since 1996 until recently, Gene was a member of the NWCG Safety and Health Working Team representing the National Association of State Foresters for the south east states. Before accepting the NIMO position and resigning from the SHWT, Gene was the Chair of the SHWT for the past three years. He was the vice chairman for two years prior to that. He is the former chair of the NWCG EMS Group.

Prior to going to work for the Florida Division of Forestry, he was the director of a county leisure services agency in northern New Jersey for 15 years.

Gene has undergraduate degrees from Paul Smith’s College in NY and William Paterson University in NJ. His graduate degree is also from William Paterson University.

He has published widely and has had a monthly column on wildland fire safety in Wildland Firefighter Magazine for the past three years.

George Custer - Operations Section Chief
George started his career in 1977 on the Gifford Pinchot NF as a member of an Inter-regional suppression crew. After working two fire seasons in the west, George transferred to the Ocala NF in Florida and continued to build his fire skills both in suppression and prescribe burning. Since 1985, George has been a Burn Boss on over 300,000 acres of prescribed burning. In 1990 George became the Seminole District’s Fire Management Officer and later the Ocala NF’s FMO. He has conducted stand replacement burning in the sand pine ecosystem, and management ignited burns in the Ocala’s Wilderness areas. Over the last decade he has increased the use of growing season prescribe burns that now account for over 50% of the acreage in the prescribe fire program. On the Ocala NF he was responsible for a fire program that handled about 100 wildfires and completed about 26,000 acres of prescribe burning each year.

George’s wildland fire qualifications include stints as a Fire Behavior Analyst, Division Group Supervisor and Type I Operations Section Chief on the Southern Region’s Incident Management Teams. In 2004 George became the Incident Commander on the Southern Area’s Type 1 IMT (Red Team). George has worked fires throughout the U.S. and has served on numerous FEMA incidents. Currently George serves as the Operations Section Chief on the Atlanta based National Incident Management Organization IMT (NIMO).

George has an Associate Degree in Forest Management from Dabney Lancaster CC in Virginia and is a graduate of Technical Fire Management (TFM#11).

Darrel Schwilling - Planning Section Chief
Darrel has a bachelor of landscape architecture degree from Kansas State University. He has worked for the federal government for over 26 years. He began his career on the Powder River Coal Leasing EIS team with the Bureau of Land Management in Casper, Wyoming in 1980. He also worked in oil and gas surgace compliance and managed the Casper District recreation and wilderness programs. In 1990 he transferred to the Ouachita National Forest as Trails and Wilderness Coordinator and eventually became the Forest Landscape Architect and Recreation and Wilderness Program Manager.

Darrel’s first experience fighting fire was as a member of a hand crew on night shift in 1981. After one shift he was hooked. For the next 9 years he participated in the Casper District fire program as a member of hand and engine crews on wildand fires and prescribed burns. His qualifications included crew boss, engine strike team leader, and field observer. In 1987, he completed qualifications for Situation Unit Leader and started serving on the R2 Type II team cadre. After moving to the Ouachita National Forest in 1980, he participated as a single resource Situation, Resource, and Demob Unit Leader with several teams across the country. He joined the Southern Region Blue Team in 2000. Darrel is qualified as a Type 1 Planning Section Chief. Besides wildand fire assignments, Darrel has worked on incident management teams managing hurricanes, burned area rehab, avian influenza, citrus canker, and the Columbia Space Shuttle recovery.

Robin Cole - Information Officer
Robin Cole has a degree in Mass Communications and English with more than 15 years of public relations experience.

Employed by the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources in 1998 as the statewide public information officer, she was promoted to Information & Education Chief in 2003. During her tenure in managing the I&E section, she was recognized for her leadership and vision in programs such as Community Wildlfire Protection Plan (CWPP’s), Firewise, Fire Prevention Education Teams, Educational State Forests, and was recognized for her guidance and management of one of the most progressive conservation education program in the nation.

Prior to her employment with the Forest Service, Cole worked as a public information officer and community development specialist with the Lee County School Board and also worked as a broadcast journalist in both television and radio for more than five years prior to that.

Cole has been a member of the North Carolina State Emergency Response Team as an Information Officer since 1998, and has worked numerous fire and all-hazard assignments in state, regionally and nationally as a lead Information Officer.

Prior to accepting her position with NIMO, Cole was a Type I Information Officer with the Southern Area Red and Area Command Team 4.