Monday, May 18, 2015

Maintain Control of Your Forces at All Times

Fighting Fire is difficult and stressful. It means hiking farther than you think you can hike. It means being a team player even when you're exhausted and in desperate need of some alone time. It means facing the flames and the heat while breathing smoke. It is emotionally as well as physically taxing. Yet, we push through all the stress to get the job done. We keep the standard firefighting orders on our minds. One of these orders is, "maintain control of your forces at all times."

In fire this means to lead by example, to give clear instructions, and to maintain situational awareness. It means earning and keeping the respect of your subordinates, conducting maintenance on your tools and equipment, and taking care of your crew members. It also means controlling your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It means being alert, keeping calm, thinking clearly, and acting decisively. As a firefighter these things are in some ways easy. We have trained and practiced for those stressful situations. We work hard because we want to do a good job, because we want to maintain our safety, and because we care about our crew members.

In our personal lives it's not so easy to maintain control of our forces at all times. I know that I lose my temper or I let my emotions cloud my vision. I've experienced a lot of emotional stress over the course of my very young life. The years I spent in college were very emotionally difficult for me as I learned new things about the world and about myself. The past year, however, has been more emotional stress than I have ever experienced. It has been at times debilitating both physically and mentally. I feel ashamed as I think about the moments where I let my feelings of loss, sadness, aloneness, and uncertainty determine my thoughts and my actions. I did not maintain control of my mental forces. I did not maintain my alertness or calmness. I did not think clearly nor act decisively. Indeed, some moments I simply lay passive and let life drive over me.

As I think about it now, I have in my mind those people whom I hurt--including myself--by not treating my "home life" the same as my "work life." I did not consider the big picture, maintain my situational awareness, nor think about the safety of my "crew"--the people whom I love and who support me--before all else.

Now, as I gear up for another fire season sure to be filled with physically and mentally challenging situations, I'm also gearing up for those moments in my personal life where I will face emotional and mental challenges. Just like in my fire training, it will take practice, and as I start out, I imagine I will fumble a little bit before I become proficient; still, I'm confident that as I keep practicing, it will get smoother and easier.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Today a man came up to me in the coffee shop and asked about my t-shirt from one of the big wildfires.  He wanted to know if I was an actual firefighter and when I told him I was he thanked me for what I do.  I don't normally think of myself as deserving of thanks. I am not the kind of firefighter that gears up, throws the oxygen tank on her back, and runs into burning buildings to save babies.

I am the kind of firefighter who throws her pack on, grabs a tool and hikes with her eyes focused on the feet in front of her. I am the kind of firefighter who digs and scrapes and drags brush and tree limbs. When the fire burns loud and hot, I hike out and wait. Most of the time I forget that even though I'm not working in burning buildings, the reason I hike into the mountains and dig line and spray down flames is to protect lives and property. Maybe I'm a little more disconnected from this truth, but people like the man in the coffee shop today remind me of my purpose, and I am grateful to know that my work is appreciated.