Monday, March 3, 2014

Destined to be a Hotshot

A woman and her pulaski in Arizona.
Last summer I had intended to write regular blogs about my adventures on a hotshot crew.
I, of course, failed at doing so and have neglected this blog since my first day as a hotshot.

There are so many different things that I need and want to write about, and I've decided that I will do so by way of a non-fiction book. It will detail what it's like to be a wildland firefighter--all the physical requirements, the fears, the struggles, the fatigue, the badass-ness--as well as involve histories of fire in the U.S., reactions to the tragedy at Yarnell Hill, and my opinions on what we can do to change the way we treat fire in the future.

I have wanted to be a hotshot wildland firefighter since I was seventeen years old when I first learned about the Snake River hotshots who were assigned to the same fire I was a camp crew member for near Zion National Park. I remember seeing their neon BLM-yellow crew buggies in the parking lot one morning before they left camp to work on the fire. I caught glances of the tough firefighters in their dirty clothes going about their morning routine as they prepared for the long day ahead of them. One of my camp crew leaders explained to me that hotshots are the most elite firefighters. They are experienced and strong, and the most respected. (I have of course since learned that smoke jumpers and heli-rappellers are stronger and more respected, but even they were all once hotshots themselves.) At that moment when I first saw them and the words Snake River Hotshots in big black letters across the top of their buggies, I decided that I would one day become a hotshot. It wasn't one of those crazy dreams of being an astronaut or an NBA player or the president of the United States sorts of things. I knew that one day it would happen--that one day that would be me climbing in the back of the crew carrier, fighting the the fires, and returning to camp covered in black soot looking exhausted and much like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Soon after that, I went through the training to become a Type 2 wildland firefighter and I worked on my first type 2 hand crew. Just being a firefighter was surreal and wonderful to me. As I progressed in the wildfire world into working on an engine crew and then in wildfire investigation, my goal of becoming a hotshot dwindled. I began to think that I wasn't cut out for that kind of work. I watched every now and then when the Bonneville Hotshots were at the BLM office in Salt Lake how they would do pull-ups in the back warehouse. All of them lined up and jumped up to the bar cranking out 10 pull-ups at a time, jumping down to get back in line, waiting to do it all over again. I didn't think I could do the kinds of work they did and so I became content with my half-field, half-office job of wildfire investigation.

At the end of the fire season, I applied for a dozen or more jobs, mostly hoping that I could work on an engine crew or a helitack crew, or most ideally, work as a wildfire investigator  closer to home (Ogden, Utah, where my lover and I lived at the time). I also applied for seasonal prescribed burning jobs in southeast U.S. for the winter, not wanting to be an un-employed ski bum like other fire seasonals I knew. Somehow in the mix of all these jobs I had mistakenly applied to a hotshot crew in Mississippi. I had an interview with the Assistant Superintendent, and a follow-up interview, and then I was offered a job. I didn't know what to do with myself it came as a surprise. But here was my chance to finally live out not just my dream, but what seemed to be my destiny of being a hotshot wildland firefighter.

I took the job and began my training.

Now, I'm preparing for my second season as a hotshot firefighter as I work with The Nature Conservancy on a prescribed burn crew.

I'm trying my damnedest to outline my non-fiction project, and perhaps put this blog to some use as I collect some thoughts and ideas.

Fire on!

1 comment:

  1. What a delight to see you posting again. Found you through AtoZ last year and just stumbled onto your new post. Got you back on my Feedly.