Category Archives: Life and Family

Essays describing what it is like to be on a hotshot crew while also having a wife and three kids.

Long/Fast Winter

This off-season has been intense. I managed to find myself a front desk gig again to avoid layoff. The agreement was that I would be available to help out with prescribed fires, but there weren’t many opportunities. So I spent my Fall and Winter selling firewood permits, xmas tree permits, and America the Beautiful park passes. I also answered hundreds of phone calls about popular attractions on our forest and road closure questions. Overall, it was a decent way to spend my time.

The other guy working the front desk was cool. He has two kids and enjoys skiing and mountain biking, so we always had plenty to talk about when we weren’t busy. I also took some classes this Winter, which kept me busy studying during down times in my office job. It was almost like a work study position.

I’m taking an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) course and Fire 1&2, which is a class required for structure firefighting. Between the two classes, I’ve got roughly a 24 credit course load going on, so the time allowed for studying at work was a huge help. I’m laid off for two weeks now, taking care of the kids and house, and my study time has taken a big hit already. It will be ok though.

It’s been nice hanging out with Mica more. He’ll be 2 years old in July, and he’s a pretty cool little turd. We’re developing a routine. I drop off his big sister at school and then we run errands til 1000 or so. We get home, he gets a snack and maybe a wrestling session and then it’s nap time at 1100. After only three days he knows the deal. Then I wake him up at 1400 if he’s not awake already and we go get his other sister from preschool. Sitter shows up at 1630 or so and then I go to class til 2130.

Big days, but we’re all getting by.

Fire season is going to feel like vacation.

I’m looking forward to going back to the crew, classes over, just drive a day or two, check in to whatever incident, and go to work.

Simple.

That is all.

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Alaska 2 (Alaska Report 1)

I’m currently on a flight from Fairbanks to Seattle. Next stop is San Fransisco, where I parked my Forest Service Jeep. My plan is to drive as far as Bakersfield, CA tonight and then get home the next day. It feels like I’ve been gone a long time. My wife had a busy time with the kids and her parents, and my parents were dealing with their parents’ health issues back East for much of the time. It will be good to be home so that I can help with the kids and give my wife a break for a few days at least. It will be good to see them all.

Alaska was a different experience from fires in the lower forty-eight. From what I saw, and I know this isn’t true of all fires in AK, the fires blow up and are pretty much unstoppable, then they sit down and have to be secured. Many big fires are the same way, but in Alaska, near structures anyway, the entire edge has to be opened up and dealt with extensively. Roads and heavy equipment are useful, but the majority of the edge on the fires I experience had to be cut out, cold-trailed, and mopped up by hand-crews. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not the exciting kind of work we all hope for, with big burnouts and epic handline construction along ridges and down steep slopes. It’s flat terrain, in thick black spruce stands, with problematic tundra holding heat for weeks and supposedly even years at times. It’s a grind.

It was awesome to experience some fires in Alaska, especially as a HEQB and Task Force Leader trainee (TFLD (T)). I had a truck the whole time and didn’t have to get soaked to the skin when it rained. Well, once, my division supervisor got lost and popped out in the middle of the black in a downpour and I had to go rescue his ass in a UTV. I got pretty wet, but it was worth it to see him all bedraggled, staggering down the two track in the rain. Hilarious. He had a tough shift that day.

My crew wants to go to Alaska, and I can understand the desire to fight fire somewhere you’ve never been, but I have to say, it would be a long hard roll and we’d be ready to go home after fourteen days of it. That being said, some crews take helicopters to the middle of nowhere in Alaska, where the black spruce isn’t so thick, and pretty much just walk around the fire, checking for heat and monitoring. It’s like an all expenses paid camping trip, and sometimes they end up in some beautiful places. You never know what you’ll get. But it will probably rain, a lot, and there will definitely be hordes of voracious mosquitos and horse flies.

Anyway, there’s a quick, disjointed, and probably not entirely accurate description of Alaska firefighting for you.

At this point, I’m looking forward to a couple days off, and selfishly hoping that I’m back to work with the crew before they get a fire assignment. They got to go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon for a full fourteen day roll while I was gone, so at least they got some action as well. It’ll be good to see them.

That is all.

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Extended!

This was supposed to be my last pay period until March, 2015 or so.  I typically get laid off for four or five months in the winter because I’m a firefighter, pretty low level, and there are not many fires this time of year.  Being laid off is normally something I’ve looked forward to during some long shifts or boring shop days, but with the new house and new baby, I’ve been dreading not getting a regular paycheck.

I always save up all summer to prepare for my lay-off, and we’d have made it through, but today I managed to find some other work that will last me through the winter.  If you call the supervisor’s office on my forest, I’ll be answering the phone, fielding questions and transfering calls to “ologists” and forest overhead.  I did the same thing at the ranger station last winter, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

I’m not an outgoing person, but in certain situations, where it’s my job and feels totally appropriate, I can be quite chatty.  I know a lot about our forest and its recreation opportunities and resource uses, having lived here and worked for the forest here for seven years.  Being able to inform people about what there is to do here is satisfying.  And I won’t be unemployed.

Win-win.

That is all.

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Winter is Coming

We got our first real cold spell this week.  Saturday morning I woke up to a balmy 30 degrees to go in and work some overtime, checking our prescribed fires from the week before.  It warmed up to about 60, and although it was windy and we ended up having to pick up an 8 acre slopover, it was a pretty nice day.

Sunday was bitterly cold, about 20 degrees when I left my house and spitting snow all day.  I rode a quad a few miles down a powerline to make sure the trees near it were sound, and it took five minutes after I got back before my fingers had enough feeling to remove my helmet.  Good times.  I left early and headed home to make a big batch of venison chili and light a fire in the woodstove.  Nice.

Speaking of the woodstove, it burns wood at an alarming rate.  I was too busy this summer with work and kids and other projects to get much firewood collected.  I got four or five truck loads.  A truck load is approximately half a cord.  I estimate I’ll need at least six cords to make it through the winter using the woodstove.  It’s not the end of the world if we run out of firewood and have to rely on gas heat, but I like the idea of burning with wood, and I like the process of acquiring it.

Tomorrow I’m taking off work to cut as much wood as I can.  I’m thinking I can get at least five truck loads in a day, so if I take off Thursday I might be able to get enough to make it through the winter.  Should be a decent couple of days, and I’m not missing anything at work.  The snow and rain have put an end to our precribed fire.

That is all.

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