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Smokies fire leaders receive regional, national awards

Smokies fire leaders receive regional, national awards

Two fire specialists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently received awards recognizing them for superior service, innovative thinking and leadership. 

Wildland Fire Module Superintendent Jordan Black was awarded the National Park Service Excellence in Mentorship Aviation Award, while Fire Ecologist Rob Klein received the regional Wildland Fire and Aviation Excellence Award. 

The Interior Region 2 award Klein received is given annually for outstanding achievement in leadership and collaboration. Klein’s peers nominated him for his collaborative mindset, inclusive communication and unquestionable integrity. He completed several extensive updates to fire management plans for the Appalachian-Piedmont-Coastal Zone and worked with fire management staff and university researchers in 2021 to coordinate ecological research. 

“Over the past 20-plus years, Rob has contributed to and advanced the National Park Service mission of managing our National Parks for the benefit of future generations,” said Regional Wildland Fire and Aviation Management Officer Shawn Nagle. “Many generations to come will benefit from Rob’s care and commitment to maintaining the aesthetic appeal of our natural resources.” 

Black was recognized by the National Aviation Office for training and mentorship of aviation personnel that goes above and beyond normal expectations. Recognizing the benefits of unmanned aircraft systems for safer and more efficient operations, he trained to pilot these systems and was immediately called upon to help with search and rescue events, prescribed fire monitoring flights and post-hurricane events. He then helped train and mentor new pilots by teaching several Basic Remote Operator courses, earning lead instructor credentials. 

 “Jordan (Black) bridges the gap between supervision and mentorship with his employees,’” said Acting Zone Fire Management Officer Shane Paxton. “That skill is reflected in this mentorship award. I’m proud of Jordan for passing his knowledge to the wildland fire community through aviation.” 

 For more information on the NPS Wildland Fire Program, visit


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