HR Coordinator Keeps Her Cool as Wildfires Heat Up

October 4, 2023

As the HR Coordinator of People Development in Europe for Superior Essex there are plenty of days that Elisa Sestito feels like she is putting out fires at the office. Then there are the nights, weekends, and holiday vacations that she literally is.

Elisa Sestito wears different suits to work!

Elisa—alongside her husband Gian Luca—volunteer their time as part of a citizen civil protection unit as well as the Piedmont Volunteer Firefighting Corps in the Italian Province of Alessandria, where the couple lives.

“It really has been an amazing experience for me,” she said. “We live in a small town of just about 1,200 people and if there are fires in woods, we often get there before the municipal firefighters and start containment. Then we stay and work to support them.”

The groups are regularly tasked with forest maintenance, territory surveillance, sighting of outbreaks, water point maintenance, civil defense services, and fire extinguishing. They also aid in recovery efforts after other natural disasters in the area by building tent cities, performing searches for missing people, and supporting the local police once the area is contained.

In the case of activity near houses, the official firefighters need to arrive before the volunteer team and then they can offer support. The team is responsible for about nine municipalities near it—as a civil citizen protection group—though they support all teams in the Alessandria province and if necessary, all locations in Piedmont region as wildfire fighters. In case of emergencies, they are also called into other Italian regions and go on missions. Specifically they have worked in Calabria, Sicily, Apulia and Sardinia for fires, as well as Emilia Romagna during a recent flood.

Gian Luca launched the unit to help combat forest fires in the area. It has since grown into one of the most respected in the region. His involvement caused Elisa to shift her passion for volunteerism as well. She had previously spent her free time working with the elderly and autistic children but is now an integral member of this fire and civil citizen protection departments.

It also altered how the couple spends their summer vacations.

During the month of July one of their volunteers—a team leader of the civil protection team—participated in a mission in Sicily. And in August Elisa and Gian Luca traveled from the Piedmont Region in Northern Italy to Calabria offering aid during the annual fire season that impacts the area. She said the decision to make the nearly-1100 km (665 mile) trek was an easy one as the Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria areas are often heavily affected by wildfire.

Gian Luca, who sells machinery and tools for agriculture by trade, was named as one of the operational leaders of the four teams that came into the area. Elisa and Gian Luca were assigned to the fourth shift as part of a rotation that would work for 10 hours per shift and often required fighting multiple fires each day.

One rapidly spreading fire was extinguished just prior to a devastating ending. High winds had pushed a line towards a village and its petrol/gas station.

“We only had a little bit of time to work, and we needed support from a helicopter,” Elisa recalled. “The flames were very tall, and they kept shifting. Our team leader on that operation was worried that it would be too risky to continue but ultimately, we stayed and did not allow the fire to claim any house, the two oil production facilities, or the petrol station.”

Several countries—like Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, and the Netherlands—report that nearly 70% of its firefighters are volunteers. Others, such as Germany, Austria, and Portugal, cite that over 94% of the firefighters are volunteers.

Also, many European governments have limited funding for professional firefighters and volunteers such as Elisa and Gian Luca help with many of the small, remote villages.

While the success in the woods may not directly translate to her role with Superior Essex, the ability to work under amazing pressure is certainly a skill according to Linda Skorb, SVP and Chief Human Resource Officer.

“It is hard to think of an environment that is more pressure-filled than fighting actual fires,” Skorb said. “The ability to lead; follow, take as well as give direction, and critically think about teamwork is an invaluable skillset.

“Professionally she is an amazing asset. But more importantly she is an amazing person.”

Contact us directly.

We know that not every project is the same and that not every application is an easy spec to meet. We want to talk with you to meet the need of any challenge that you have.

Click the platform below that you would like to share this on. Thanks for sharing!