Winters Warriors are an ambitious group who go off and blaze their own life/career paths after graduation. Dylan Ney is one such alumnus whose trailblazing led him all the way to a career in keeping blazes at bay.
Ney could easily be described as an athlete in his tenure at Winters High School and headed to Santa Rosa Junior College to play football after he graduated in 2010. Life tends to have a knack for not going according to plan as this path ended up not working out for him.
In his transitional period, Ney moved closer to home and got a job at Raley’s in Vacaville. He attended Solano Community College, where he took criminal justice classes. However, criminal justice just wasn’t tickling Ney’s fancy as he yearned for more fulfillment. That’s when life presented Ney with an opportunity that — if he were working anywhere else but at Raley’s bagging groceries — may never have occurred.
“I met a recruiter at Raley’s for the Army National Guard and thought I’d go for it because I didn’t want to be bagging groceries the rest of my life. From there I took a bunch of tests and firefighting was one of the recommendations for me to get into. So, I signed a contract in April of 2012 and got on a plane three months later to head off to basic training,” said Ney.
Ney did 10 weeks of Army training and then three months of additional training to become a firefighter at Good Fellow Air Force Base in Texas.
“I came back from that with all these certifications and had the mentality of wanting to jump into a city firefighter role. But, California wouldn’t recognize the certifications of this fire academy,” said Ney.
Because of this, Ney hit a bit of a lull in his career path as he vied to get his certifications transferred over. Compounding that, the National Guard was facing legal issues at the time, so Ney shifted gears and worked for his father while things got sorted out.
Month after month fell off the calendar until one day another opportunity presented itself that would toss Ney out of the frying pan and — quite literally — into the fire.
“All of a sudden, my sergeant at the time said, ‘Hey, does anyone want to go to this week-long, wildlands firefighting course they’re putting on in Redding?’ We’d get our ‘red card’ doing this which is basically a certification that you get for being able to do wildland firefighting. The red card would also switch over all my certifications to California, so my buddy and I thought to ourselves, ‘This is our shot and the last piece of the puzzle we need,’” explained Ney. “I did the course and freaking fell in love with it. At the end of the course, myself and my buddy got offered jobs. He was a little timid at first, but I just said, ‘screw it, I’m doing it.’ Then he decided to do it, too.”
This all took place in 2020 and Ney became part of the crash rescue team. Although happy to be working in the fire service in Redding, it wasn’t until he was helping out on a fire engine in the North Complex Fire that he crossed paths with a group of modern-day superheroes he’d eventually join the following year — the Hotshots.
Essentially, Hotshot firefighters are the ones who go in behind the lines when a wildfire erupts and duke it out with Mother Nature. They dig trenches, perform controlled burns, mitigate fire damage and are experts in all facets of wildland fire management.
“I was never a big nature guy, but just being out there and seeing what they showed us, we learned how technical wildland firefighting is. Your brain is exhausted from everything you have to remember and it’s very much life and death. It’s like, you need to stay 20 steps ahead and know what this fire is doing, or else you’re going to die. But it’s 110-percent a dream-come-true situation. I never want to do anything else,” said Ney.
Ney’s advice to current Winters high school students about to take that next step toward their future is to push past those comfort zones.
“Winters being the small town that it is, you get really good at being around the same people. You develop a brotherhood and trust knowing people have your back. So, I’d just say keep that but also, grow out of your small-town shell. Go out and push yourself as much as you can as far as you can because Winters will still be here with people who have your back,” Ney said.
With wildfires becoming more prominent, Winters can be proud of not only its local fire department but in its 2010 WHS graduate Hotshot who brings the firefight to mother nature when she loses her temper.
Where Are They Now is the newest series where the Express puts a spotlight on a Winters alumni. The only requirement is that the interviewee is a graduate of a high school in Winters. If you would like to share your after-high school story, send an email to email@example.com.