Meet the state wildland firefighter: Forest Ranger Jose Bautista

OKEECHOBEE — Forest Ranger Jose Bautista was born and raised in Okeechobee County and graduated from Okeechobee High School, where his favorite subjects were history and science. Ranger Bautista received his State Wildland Firefighting Certificate in 2015. He explained he had worked for G4S and for Taylor Rental in Okeechobee, where he learned to operate a lot of different heavy equipment, but was looking for something that would provide health insurance for his family, fulfill his passion for working outdoors and satisfy his longing for a sense of community.

Forest Ranger Jose Bautista, a state wildland firefighter, with his special firefighting bulldozer. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Mr. Bautista said the fire tower on U.S. 441 had always intrigued him, so one day he decided to stop and check it out. He had heard about how the local state wildland firefighters suppressed wildfires with heavy equipment, bulldozers and by air attack, and that sounded like something he would be interested in, so as soon as there was an opening he applied, and he has been there for four years now.

One of his favorite things about the job is teaching wildfire prevention to elementary school children. He said all children love Smokey the Bear. He likes teaching the importance of being responsible with fire because maybe what he teaches those children will save a life one day or prevent a house from burning down.

Ranger Bautista said: “Smokey Bear’s message of “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” has been going strong for almost 75 years, I want to ensure it continues well after I retire.” He also enjoys getting to see and experience things most people never do. He said that once, after a prescribed burn near the Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital, the caretaker allowed him to see an injured bald eagle up close. He said it was majestic! He also explained that most wildfires occur in remote locations, which means he sees and gets to help preserve areas of Florida that most people never see, including hundred-year-old oak tree canopies, untouched natural creeks and wildlife roaming free.

As much as he enjoys his job, his true love is his family. Ranger Bautista said he and his beautiful wife are raising five wonderful children, three daughters and two sons, and they are his pride and joy. There is nothing he enjoys more than to cook pancakes for his family on the weekends and watch cartoons with his wife and kids. He shares his love of history and science with his children, and they all enjoy hunting and fishing together. Someday soon, he said, he’d like to take up golfing again.

When he was growing up, Ranger Bautista always considered his dad his hero. He said, “He taught me how to be a hard worker.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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