The Fireline

Being a Volunteer Firefighter is cool for a lot of reasons, helping your community, driving big trucks, playing with fire and water at the same time. The duds are less than cool but they do their job and protect you. Although sometimes we get to work behind the scenes with the government, that isn’t the norm. Volunteers primarily get to work on the actual fire, or nothing.

The actual fire though, is quite a bit of fun. There is a whole lot of common sense needed to work a fire. You need to be aware of escape routes and safety zones, the tools you’re using and their applications. Even where the water hose is lying, or the truck is parked is extremely important and could have nasty repercussions if done badly or without thought. According to some unnamed clause of Murphy’s Law, fires generally occur in bad places. Perhaps there’s bad parking, cliffs, steep embankments, power poles, ect.

For the two fires I have gotten to work, I have found a myriad subtle problems needing to be overcome. It provides a challenge for the mind as well as for the body. One way to break a fire, and keep it from spreading is to surround it with a trench, which has to be deep enough to catch rolling logs or coals and has to be free of anything flammable. But when you’re cutting through three inches of sod and pine duff you have your work cut out for you and if you’re on your own, it can take a long time. The woods of northwestern America have no shortage of curve balls to throw at a firefighter. Terrain is a huge factor and it is amazing how the simple shape of the land can direct a fire. Of course steep hills will cause the fire to move faster, but if wind is working in the opposite direction, the fire can begin “backing” or moving against its origin.

After the fire is contained, (there is a perimeter around the entire blaze), then begins “mop-up”. The black burned areas become safe and you have to watch out for new problems. White means hot and you have to be careful where you walk. If a stump has been burned out, it can smolder deep into its roots, forming a deep, hot, hole in the ground that can be difficult to see if the top is cool and blackened to hide the hot coals underneath. You have to go in with your hands to feel the heat and roll logs over to cool the undersides as well.

Needless to say with all these tasks ahead, there is always the guarantee that you will be absolutely disgustingly dirty when you are done, and there is no way you can even get in the house without heading straight for the shower. And there is the assurance you will be up much later than you want to be.


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