Spirit of Enterprise: Apache Warrior Stokes his Entrepreneurial Fires With a Firefighting Business
Name: Clyde Campbell, 41
Title: Owner of Apache Fire Warriors, LLC
How long in business: Since 2009
Advice for other Native owners: “Check into all the resources available to help you in whatever business you’re trying to launch. There are quite a few out there. Also, look to see if the tribe has a mentor program that can help.”
At 18, Clyde Campbell worked on the engine crew for the U.S. Forest Service and later, the Hot Shot crew in Payson, Ariz., fighting fires. Though the work was dangerous, difficult and demanding at times, Campbell said he loved every minute of it. “It was fun building trails and working out in the forest. Keeps you healthy and makes you accountable.”
Years later, this exciting and unforgettable experience sparked an idea for Campbell to start Apache Fire Warriors, LLC -- a private company that contracts with the government to help fight wildfires.
Since launching the company in 2009, he and his certified crew have been hired for two big projects with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management. But steady, ongoing work has been hard to come by. As the Tonto Apache native explains, it’s the age-old problem of the big guy squeezing out the little guy. “We’re just a small company. It’s not easy to compete with the big corporations,” he says.
So the very enterprising Campbell got wise and created other streams of revenue. Because Apache Fire Warriors is classified with the government under “forestry,” it opens the door for Campbell to bid on other projects, such as fuel reduction, trail maintenance, tree planting and even fence-building. “In the last two years,” he says, “we’ve been doing hazardous fuel reduction, using chain saws to cut brush and create fire lines around homes and structures,” a preventive measure to keep wildfires from spreading.
Campbell also rents out his 2,200-gallon water truck to the Department of Transportation, a local private cemetery and various contractors. “Our flat fee includes the cost of fuel and a driver, so it’s a pretty good deal for whoever is using us.”
The most challenging part of running his business, says Campbell, is writing the government contract. “If you’ve ever seen a government contract and what it consists of, it’s intimidating!” Campbell didn’t discover until earlier this year that the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) could have been helping him all along. “They really opened my eyes to all the opportunities out there for minority businesses and how they can help,” he shares.
The NCAIED worked with Campbell to put a bid together that landed Apache Fire Warriors and a handful of other businesses a lucrative contract. But unfortunately, after some contractors protested, the original solicitation awards were voided and he lost out to bigger companies on the second go-round.
Recognizing that he had to fight fire with more fire power, Campbell made an impassioned pitch to his tribe to encourage them to get into the firefighting and fire prevention industries. “They have the advantage to get some of these contracts because they are a tribe and can form a corporation like the ones I am competing against.”
While he hasn’t heard back from the Tonto Apaches yet, Campbell hopes they will see the big picture. “They have the potential to be a big player in the field with their own crew and their own fire department, and get a lot of young people working.”
To contact Clyde Campbell: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynn Armitage is also an entrepreneur and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.
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