Only the best can make it as firefighters
I woke up early this morning. In the dark. With a phrase sounding in my brain, a question. What manner of men are these? I knew that it was about Dan and firefighters, and as the morning went on, I knew that it was the wrong question. It was familiar, but I didn’t know the source. It was too refined, too elegant, too sexist. I played with it, went away, drank coffee, came back to it. From a movie, yes. Butch said to Sundance, “Who are these guys?” It was the right question. Does the word guys include women? Ask any waitress. Yes, it does.Then came the others. The related questions. Who the hell runs into a burning forest? Who straps on an 80-pound pack, and parachutes out of a perfectly functioning aircraft onto a forest fire? Who are these guys? Who drives fire equipment up a mountain road so narrow that, in the words of Louis L’Amour, “You’ve got one stirrup hanging out in space.” Who does that?I’ve seen the documentaries on C-SPAN and PBS with the reporters and cameramen out on the fire lines. The ones where firefighters armed with chain saws and pulaskis go into battle with fires so intense that they create their own weather systems. The documentaries where every firefighter interview generates the same quotes – “I would not do any other job.” “I’d hate doing anything else.” “I can’t wait for the phone to ring with a fire call.” “Look at this country. Who’d want to be anywhere else?” The ones where the reporter looks into the camera with an expression of awe and disbelief and says, “How do I describe them? The word heroic would offend them. They’d never admit to that. They might accept being described as adventurous, though that is an understatement of major proportions. Is it addictive, being a firefighter? Betcha ass, baby! The dust and the ash, the smell of the smoke, also the rash of the poison oak. All of it is embraced!” Who are these guys?Who calls you at midnight on Tuesday night, and announces in a cheerful voice that they are already on overtime, and that they are spiked out at 10,000 feet? (Spiked out means that you’ve camped with the supplies you carried in on your back. No hot meal, because you are too removed from the base. And that’s way better than coyote camp, when you simply drop from exhaustion, and sleep where you are when the relief crew shows up.) To keep up morale, every so often, God will reward them a sunset so peaceful and perfect that it couldn’t be real, and it’s gone in a moment. Did that really happen? Who are these guys?How do you maintain emergency vehicles which may be used routinely for weeks or months, and then be required to act as high performance vehicles, such as in a chase? The better question is, how do you maintain workers who will be required to go from routine, mundane tasks to full adrenaline load instantly? Repeatedly. Do you wonder that heart attacks kill as often as vehicles? Who are these guys?November nears, and the season slows. How long does it take, at the end of fire season, for your mind and your body to adjust back to reason? It only compares, I think, to combat – total attention to this and that. All hope of survival needs rest and revival. In March and April, the calls go out, and, just as sure as the seasons, back they troop; full of smartass, and full of poop. Who are these guys?I’ve asked the question several times. The answer comes back the same to me, time after time. Only the best! The good and the better need not apply. Only the best can hang with these guys. Only the best.These thoughts are offered as a sign of respect to all who embrace the dirt and the ash, the smell of the smoke, and the poison oak. What wildland firefighters do for a living not only excites respect and admiration in reporters, but in dads who are native to the Great Plains, and have never seen a fire line.These words are dedicated to the memory of the life and career of Daniel Rama, 1974-2002. “Son, brother, friend, sawyer, engine boss, crew boss, Hayman Fire, Colorado 2002.”Dave Rama is the father of Daniel Rama, who died in a van accident near Parachute on the way to the Hayman Fire on June 21, 2002.
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