A lot of people ask me how they can get into wildland firefighting.
I tell them the usual thing: apply online.
They ask me how I got into firefighting--how did I know about it? And what interested me about it?
Not many people start out the way I did. I started on the very lowest rung of the ladder in the wildfire world: camp crew.
I loved camp crew. It was a summer job where I could make lots of money (for a 16-year-old $2,000 was "lots" of money). But it wasn't just the money that appealed to me. Camp crew meant getting a call at any time of the day or night and being ready to leave two hours later to any place in the country. It also meant camping in a tent for up to 14 days at a time (and getting paid for it!). It was my dream job.
The work was simple. Wake up in the morning and click a little counting device for every person that walks through the breakfast line. Then help unload a truck of ice into the refrigerator trailer. Hand out lunches, cases of water and gatorade, and other snacks to the firefighters. During the day I'd go around camp picking up trash, emptying garbage cans, stocking coolers with ice/water/gatorade. Sometimes we'd get special projects like building A-frame signs, filling in gopher holes, or even answering telephones and sharing information. Sometimes our camp crew would be in charge of the supply unit, so we'd unload shipments, organize all the supplies, keep inventory, and replace damaged supplies that the firefighters brought in. Other times we'd stretch out the tangled hoses that firefighters brought in, then we'd roll them up nice and tight (that was one of my favorite jobs--even though I hated doing it later as a firefighter).
It was while I was on camp crew that I got to see the dirty, ash-covered, worn-out firefighters. I talked to a few of them, overheard conversations at dinnertime, and watched them as they came into camp at night and left in the morning.
At first I thought the firefighters were cool, but I didn't think I wanted to be one. Then I saw her. The one lady in what seemed to be hundreds of men. She was covered in black ash from head to boots. Her hair was tied back in a messy ponytail and sticking out in places. And her teeth were so white. I know because she was smiling. I never forgot about her, and ultimately, she inspired me to become a wildland firefighter. Seeing her in the fire camp encouraged me, and proved to me that it was possible for women to fight fires. I don't know that I ever consciously thought that it was a man-only job, but I'd also never really thought it could be a job for women.
Not only did camp crew earn me some cash for college, it led me to the ultimate dream job as a wildland firefighter.