Ben Miller, Director
Ben spent the first part of his career with 15 years of service at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Ben was the founder and program director of the first operational unmanned aerial system (UAS) program for a non-federal public safety agency in the United States. The MCSO UAS program has been featured in prestigious print media—such as National Geographic, Time, and Smithsonian Air & Space—and has been covered by numerous news organizations around the world, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Throughout the industry, Ben is regarded as a thought leader on the applications of small unmanned aircraft in public safety. His perspective has been shared in presentations across the United States and Canada, including testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as to other members of Congress at both the state and national levels. His expertise has been sought by prestigious organizations—such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the United States Department of Justice, and the Federal Aviation Administration's NextGen Institute—and numerous other entities in the unmanned aircraft space, including academia and industry.
Beyond unmanned aircraft, Ben spent the latter part of his public safety career researching, testing, and evaluating public-safety-related technologies that increase safety and efficiency for first responders. Having managed the adoption of numerous new technologies and processes, Ben is excited for the opportunity to lead a first-class team and create the space they need to do big things.
Ben—raised in Fruita, Colorado—is a Western Slope native and resides in Grand Junction with his wife of 17 years and their 14-year-old twins.
Bob Gann, Deputy Director
Dr. Gann is a Colorado native who received his PhD in Electrical Engineering—with an emphasis on semiconductor materials, physics, and spectroscopy—from Colorado State University in 1986. After joining Hewlett Packard, Bob shifted his emphasis to digital image capture and processing and worked in that field as a research scientist and product developer for nearly 30 years. In recent years, Bob worked in the intellectual property field assisting companies with the development, marketing, and defense of patents. In addition, Bob is both an inventor, with 17 imaging-related U.S. patents to his name, and a published author.
Bob’s firefighting career started in 1986 when he joined the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department (RCVFD). Bob became Chief of RCVFD in 1992 and continued in that position (with one short break) until he retired from RCVFD in October 2015 to join the Center of Excellence. During his career as Chief, Bob was involved in a number of large fires, most notably the High Park Fire in 2012. RCVFD is featured, post–High Park, in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) video, “Before the Smoke.” In 2013, Bob was awarded the NFPA Wildland Safety Exemplary Service Award.
Joining the Center of Excellence allowed Bob to realize a long-held desire to combine his engineering and firefighting careers. He and his wife Charlene (Charlie) are excited by the move to the Rifle area and by the opportunities to make contributions to Colorado’s wildland fire service.
Jessica Harstad, Program Assistant
Before beginning employment with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control in July 2015, Jessica Harstad worked as a technical editor on a U.S. Department of Energy contract. Specifically, she supported the Office of Legacy Management’s Grand Junction office by editing a wide range of deliverable documents, including monitoring reports, monthly status reports, and Waste Management Symposia papers.
Jessica graduated summa cum laude from Colorado Mesa University in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. In addition, she received her associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies from Kaplan University in December 2006 and spent a number of years working as a legal assistant for law firms on both the Western and Eastern Slopes of Colorado.
She is enjoying using her work experience and education to support the Center of Excellence’s mission, particularly since she has family and friends who are wildland firefighters.
Adam Trojanowski, Economic and Policy Analyst
Adam joined the Center of Excellence in December 2015 and is excited to work on complex policy and regulatory issues. He received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Colorado Law School in 2004. After law school, Adam worked as a law clerk for a district judge in Colorado’s 2nd Judicial District. Following his clerkship, Adam entered private law practice with a Denver law firm, specializing in real estate and lending transactions. However, Adam quickly found that he was more motivated by public service, so he became a police officer in 2007 and a police sergeant in 2012. During his police career in the Denver metropolitan area, Adam served as a patrol officer, firearms instructor, field trainer, and supervisor.
Adam brings practical experience with law and policy work in the public safety sector to the Center of Excellence. He is especially interested in the effects of policy and regulations on the crucial mission of wildland firefighters and, in particular, how those policies affect decision-making by incident commanders.
In his spare time, Adam enjoys spending time skiing and hiking with his kids, exploring the Western Slope, and reading.
Garrett Seddon, Military and UAS Integration Specialist
Garrett joined the Center of Excellence (CoE) in October 2016 to utilize his experience and knowledge to help achieve the CoE mission. Garrett has a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management and an Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Flight from Southern Illinois University. He also is a certificated flight instructor with over 10 years of experience in the aviation industry.
Before working at the CoE, Garrett worked in airport management at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida and the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Colorado. While working in airport management, Garrett ensured airfield safety and compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration through safety oversight and Aircraft Rescue Firefighting.
In 2009, Garrett commissioned in the United States Army into the Adjutant General Corps. He has served in the Colorado Army National Guard as a human resource manager for multiple units and is currently the Commander of the 104th Public Affairs Detachment located on Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.
In his current role as the Military and UAS Integration Specialist, Garrett manages the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program to integrate UAS into firefighting and other emergency operations. He leads the research and implementation of new UAS technology, software, and other advancements that allow the CoE to provide near real-time decision-quality data to aid leaders in making sound tactical decisions—improving the safety and efficiency of the response.
Garrett and his family reside in Redstone, Colorado.
Brad Schmidt, Wildland Fire Technology Specialist
Brad joined the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) in May 2015 as a helicopter crew member, supporting fire-suppression efforts in Colorado and other states through an exclusive-use helicopter module. Prior to joining DFPC, Brad worked for the Wyoming State Forestry Division as part of the Wyoming State Helitack crew, an interagency state-sponsored helicopter module.
In his role as Wildland Fire Technology Specialist for the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, Brad focuses on projects related to geospatial and communications issues that affect wildland fire management. For example, Brad is working to develop ubiquitous data connectivity and app-based situational awareness for wildland firefighters in the air and on the ground. Brad also manages the development of the Colorado Fire Prediction System in collaboration with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Brad has a master's degree in Public Administration and Environment/Natural Resources from the University of Wyoming, where he also served as a teaching assistant in the Criminal Justice Department and specialized in issues related to corrections and criminal courts. In addition, Brad has a bachelor's degree in Natural Resources Management, with a minor in Spatial Information Management, from Colorado State University.
Dave Toelle, Aerial Firefighting Expert
Dave’s career in wildland fire began in 1976 and he has primarily worked in U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) wildland fire programs since then. His past assignments include time spent from 1976–1977 as a helitack crew-member with the USFS on the Burns Fire Zone in the Malheur and Ochoco National Forests in Eastern Oregon and as a helitack foreman with the BLM Burns District from 1978–1980.
In 1980, Dave received a permanent full-time position with the Boise National Forest as Initial Attack Hand-Crew Foreman for the Idaho City Ranger District. In 1981, Dave transferred to the Ochoco National Forest in Burns, Oregon, as a District Assistant Fire Management Officer, where he worked from 1981–1989. In 1989, Dave went to the Kaibab National Forest in Region 3—located in Fredonia, Arizona—and served as the District Fuels and Prescribed Fire Specialist in the North Kaibab Ranger District from 1989–1997. In 1997, Dave moved from Region 3 to the Pike and San Isabel National Forest and became the Center Manager for the Pueblo Interagency Dispatch Center from 1997–2001. In 2001, he became the Interagency Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist for BLM and USFS (Royal Gorge Field Office and San Isabel National Forest) in Cañon City and served in that position until 2008.
In 2008, Dave transferred to Craig BLM in the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit and served as the Unit Assistant Fire Management Officer-Operations until March 2013, when he retired from the BLM and took a position with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC). Dave served as DFPC’s Regional Fire Management Officer for the Colorado River Region from 2013–2015. He is actively involved in the Multi-Mission Aircraft program and serves as a Mission Sensor Operator, as well as serving as the DFPC Acting Aviation Unit Chief from July 2015–November 2015.
Dave completed the required Technical Fire Management coursework through Washington Institute and Colorado State University from 1994–1996. He has also served actively on Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams in the Northwest, Southwest, and Rocky Mountain regions as an Air Tactical Group Supervisor and Air Support Group Supervisor. In addition, he is currently working to become qualified as an Air Operations Branch Director.
In October 2015, Dave became the Aerial Firefighting Expert for the DFPC Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. Dave is married to Toni, has three children, and he and his wife reside in Craig, Colorado.