As many of my friends and family probably already know, I spent this summer as a volunteer firefighter. Naturally, it interfered with my writing and blogging a bit… but the experience was well worth it. Sure, I don’t get paid to go out and fight fire, but you gain a sense of community with just a bunch of friends out fighting fires.
Our little Fire Department is fairly well outdated, but we still have made an impact on our community. (Yes, I do consider not letting their houses burn down an impact.) When you get a call that there is a fire, especially in and amongst houses, you have a feeling of satisfaction knowing that you can stop it. At the very least, knowing you’re going to try to stop it and not just sit around on your hands is satisfying.
I joined this winter because my Dad joined over a year ago and thoroughly enjoys it, and not because it is a nice, easy way to make money. We don’t make any money at it; in fact, you have to delve into your own pocket to supply yourself with proper gear. I buy my own snacks, boots, socks, shirts, hats… things like that.
Remarkably enough, I hardly touched the stuff I put in my pack. Personally I don’t want to stop working long enough to munch on some jerky or even drink enough water, (don’t worry, I get thoroughly scolded for that and I am trying to do better.)
I was able to play a role in three fires this summer. The first fire was fairly superficial, but it was good to get out and get a look at how things work. I worked on one of our trucks to wet down the landing zone for the helicopter carrying hotshots into the fire (known fondly as the Mack Fire), which was fairly well off the beaten track. We couldn’t even get a truck up to it, not that the one person who initially responded would have tried on his own. And not to condemn him, for going in by himself would have been foolish in the best of scenarios and could have cost him his life in the worst. Our #1 priority is protecting our firefighters. If we go in and get ourselves hurt or trapped, we just make the problem worse for other people.
This particular day was extremely dry, there had been an excess of dry lightning the day before and there were several fires burning around us, I do believe the Mack Fire was the largest of them, and it lasted the longest in our area. It was started by a lightning strike the night before and it took it until 2:00pm the next day for it to really get started up.
I showed up at about 3:30pm and snapped a few pictures before starting work on the landing zone. As I said, it was very dry and every time the helicopter landed, it kicked up clouds upon clouds of dust. We had to resort to standing behind the truck eventually, but that didn’t work because the dust came up under the truck and hit us in the faces. We were able to find a stand of trees that blocked the wind pretty well and allowed us to control traffic.
We did have to control traffic too; for some reason, fire isn’t a good enough reason for people to leave their campsites. Besides, people like to come look at what all the strange people in green and yellow uniforms are doing. They don’t seem to realize that they impede the movement of equipment and just cause extra frustration in an already precarious situation.
A word of wisdom: If there is a fire, you can hear about it on the news, the people fighting it are not appreciative of your immediate curiosity.
The next day we got to wet down the area around the dunk-tank (Or pumpkin.) It is amazing how the pilots can guide the bucket into something smaller than a back yard swimming pool. That particular job was boring but absolutely necessary. We were able to set up the pump to spray while we drove around the pumpkin. Therefore we did not have to pull hose and then coil it up really fast for the helicopter to come in.
All in all, for a first experience, it gave me a sense of how the process works and how to coordinate with state resources. It made me very happy to be able to help out in my community and to know what was going on first hand.