NIMO Atlanta Biographies

George Custer - Incident CommanderGeorge Custer - Incident Commander

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).

imageJames Meredith - 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.

image 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.

imageBob Houseman - Operations Section Chief

Operations Section Chief, NIMO Team - Atlanta, USFS Fire & Aviation Management, National Headquarters

Bob graduated from Iowa State University in 1978 with a BS degree in Forest Management. His experience in Forestry and Fire Management began in 1976 when he worked two seasons on the St. Joe National Forest, Avery Ranger District, in timber cruising and fire control. In 1979 he was employed by Colville Tribal Forestry, Nespelem, Washington where he served for two years as the eastern regional Forest Supervisor overseeing land management operations and providing fire suppression training and development. In 1984 Bob moved to North Carolina where he began a career with the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources as a Service Forester and working his way through the ranks as a Assistant District Forester, District Forester and eventually became the Regional Forester for the coastal plain region.

Bob has served in a variety of wildland fire positions over his career including Crew Boss, Burn Boss, Division Group Supervisor, IA IC Type 4 and Type 3 IC. He served as IC Type 2 on one of the North Carolina's IMT's since 2002 and on the Southern Area Red Team prior to joining NIMO. His current qualifications include IC T1 & T2, OSC T1 & T2 and PIO T2.

Since 2005 Bob has served on the National Association of State Foresters sponsored Complex Incident Management Course (CIMC) steering committee and is a member of the cadre serving as an instructor and coach.  

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.

imageJudith L. Downing - Public Information Officer

Judith L. Downing is the Public Information Officer for the Atlanta National Incident Management Team (NIMO).  She has served as a Type I information officer on Type I incident management teams since 1988.  She developed and applied improved methods to engage communities-at-risk during wildfires using existing interpersonal and social-media networks.  She developed  community action teams to monitor changing community information needs and to provide information stakeholders need to cope with fire threats to their safety, property and other interests and to recover quickly after the fire.  In fire prevention, she pioneered collaborative, interagency, community-based wildfire education, mitigation, and preparedness methods grounded in social sciences and integrated with fuels and natural resources management at the community landscape scale.  She was awarded the GEICO Fire Prevention and Safety Award for her community-based work in fire prevention and fire education.  She continues to promote application of fire social science in fire management, working closely with scientists in the U.S. Forest Service Research Stations.

Judith earned a BA in Parks and Natural Resource Management from California State University, Chico where she also completed graduate courses in Human Communication.  She started her career with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and later she worked in Recreation Management on the Olympic National Forest.  Her next assignment was as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Plumas National Forest and then on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  There, she also worked as a Public Affairs Specialist and Forest Fire Prevention and Information Officer.  In 2000 she moved to Colorado where she worked in State and Private Forestry as the Interagency Wildland Urban Interface Fire and Education Specialist for the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region.  The position was interagency with the Bureau of Land Management Colorado State Office and Colorado State Forest Service.  She returned to California in 2004 as Assistant Director, Cooperative Fire Liaison for the Pacific Southwest Region.  She joined the Atlanta NIMO team in 2010.

image Sally Browning - Logistics Section Chief
Sally graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Forestry. She has worked for the Forest Service for over 32 years. She began her career on the Daniel Boone National Forest n Kentucky where her interest in fire management began. She has worked as a Forestry Technician, Soil Scientist, and Forester. Prior to her NIMO assignment, she was an Assistant Ranger on the Wayah Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest where she managed the recreation, fire, and lands program.

Sally spent time on fire crews while always taking on some logistics tasks. Her qualifications included crew boss, field observer, ICT4, facilities unit leader, supply unit leader, and information officer. In 1986 she became the Facilities Unit Leader on the Southern Area Red Team and in 1992 became the Type I Logistics Chief for the team. She held this position until her NIMO assignment in 2006. Sally has used the Incident Command System to help teams manage fires, prescribed burns, burned area rehab, hurricanes, search and rescue, storm damage, gypsy moth spraying, the Oklahoma City bombing, Rainbow Gathering, and the Columbia Space Shuttle recovery. Her team worked in the New Orleans Airport immediately following Hurricane Katrina where they used ICS to coordinate with many agencies.

In the Spotlight
photo of wildland fire and operations