Peaceful Vigilance: The Art of Letting Go

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they just have to take a step back and admit that things are out of their control. For most people this is a time of dread and hardships. For me, it’s a chance to relax and watch the world go by.

This picture has meaning to me far beyond the subjects captured in it. I’ve always loved photography but it’s only in recent years that I’ve started looking at it in an artistic manner. Such as that is, I was going through my files some three or four years back when I stumbled across this image. I had forgotten that I even took it. It’s one of those images that struck me for some reason but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I decided to set it as a background so I could ponder over it whenever I was at my computer. And for all the thought I put into it, I lost my original feeling towards the pic. I did however start to connect it to loss; Loss of tactical advantage, loss of control, and just loss in general. But instead of regarding it as tragic, I used it as an inspiration to move on.
Unfortunately in my line of work, control is really an illusion. We have a job and we do our best to get it done but when it comes down to it, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. On wild land fires we do our best to predict the activity but we can’t control the weather. We watch the fuels but we can’t control the fuel moisture. We do our best to predict what is going to happen but sometimes we just can’t do that. What makes a good fire fighter is not only knowledge but also the ability to just let go sometimes. In this case there was no hope of catching it and only trees would burn up so the foreman just sat back and watched the fire run. We later caught it when it was in a better spot and no one was put at risk. It was the right choice and it inspired me.
This picture helped me to realize that I needed to apply this tactic to more parts of my life. I live in a rather small community and being as such the fires and car accidents I go on are often involving people I know/knew. Quite often, it’s people I don’t know or people I just knew of, but occasionally it’s someone that I know well. Over time, it’s something that can get to you if you let it, and I admit that it started to get to me a little. But thinking about this picture helped me to realize that these were just other situations where I lost control. I couldn’t stop that house from starting on fire or that car from rolling. The only thing I can do is my job as I was trained and the rest I just have to sit back and let the world go by.
In a perfect world, everything would go as planned and you’d never have to compromise. It seems that one of the hardest things in the world is to do nothing, to not be in control. Every aspect of our upbringing today is about controlling our individual futures. We’re brought up to believe that we have all these wonderful rights and we control our life and make it what we want. It’s a wonderful and comforting thought, but it’s a flimsy reality. The truth is that while the feeling of control is nice, our plans can be thrown off with even the simplest of events. The question is; when it happens, will you be able to cope with it, or will it destroy everything you’ve worked for?

Wyoming Wind: A Road Map to Cold

I was thinking the other evening about how glad I was to finally get all the dead branches that were hanging over my roof, cleaned out of my trees. The rain was pouring down and I was able to actually relax not having to worry about my roof. It’s one of the benefits of living where I do, every year we get the pleasure of experiencing the gamut of weather here in Wyoming. We get heat, cold, snow, rain, and most of the year we get wind. It’s almost always present and most of the time it’s actually bearable. But every once in a while we get these ungodly gusts that throw you around like you were a rag doll.

It’s when these large wind events occur that life gets busy; and it doesn’t matter if it’s a house fire, downed power lines from trees, or vehicle rolls, one thing is always certain. Wyoming wind is always a road map to cold. These large wind events are guaranteed to come with freezing rain, snow, or a combination of the two. It’s cold, wet, and hard work. Luckily, the very gear that protects us from the heat of an inferno is also the gear that keeps us warm on those cold nights. And it was the storm that evening that reminded me of a night only a winter or two ago. The picture below, as a back drop, provides a pretty good first impression of the night.

A Road Map to Cold

Semi Truck roll over on Hwy 16 west in Johnson County Wyoming

Unfortunately for this individual, wind likes truckers. It almost feels like it’s only fair sometimes. Kind of like it’s payback for that time one passed you and the wind from them almost knocked you off the road. But regardless if its karma or something else, I think the big rigs are magnets for wind. They’re either creating it or being knocked over by it. And when that happens, it’s up to us to go out and fix the problem. As told by the foot prints and tier tracks in the snow; by the time this photo was taken we and already loaded the individual in the ambulance and shipped him down the hill. There was a brief pause in the wind allowing for a couple shots of the scene but out of many photos taken only about two were clear enough to actually enjoy.

The crazy thing about wind is that it doesn’t discriminate. People are just as likely a target of its wrath as vehicles, and it soon let us know that. The wind quickly picked up after this shot and was hitting gusts upwards of 50 mph. This combined with the slick roads started pushing us off the road as well. We ended up having to dawn our cleats just to stay on the road and finish our work. Gladly though, aside from rosy cheeks and cold fingers, we were warm from the wind.

As a side note, I’m sizing down the pictures to try and clean up my posts a little. Let me know if you like it or if you’d rather see the larger pictures.

Is your equipment making your job dangerous?

Equipment is one of the things that we’ve come to rely on. It allows us to bring water to the fire, the tools we need to get the job done, and enables us to get to places we weren’t able to before. Most have come to expect it to be there, and with proper maintenance and upkeep it usually will be. The problem with this is when it goes down you’re likely going to be in bad shape. You may have thought you were in a good position to fight the fire, and you may have before your equipment went down, but you have to remember that the question of safety is relative. I’m not too proud to admit that sometimes the equipment on my department goes down unexpectedly. Any firefighter that won’t admit that hasn’t been in this line of work long, is lying, or is oblivious to the point that he/she is a danger to themselves and others.

We hit the ground running that night. Even though it was midnight, tall sage brush and low humidity caused a wind driven fire with 15 - 20 foot flame lengths. I snapped this shot after we got the head of the fire knocked down and were getting ready to go back around and reinforce the line. Near by methane structures were the main concern, which we were luckily able to save all of them.

The situation that brought on this post happened the other day. As seen on the left, we were running a wet line alongside some fairly heavy flame lengths when I lost water. Not a good position to be in. I signal the driver to back off and we pull into the safety of the black, while the driver tells the other trucks on the fire that we’re pulling off. In this particular incident it was a simple matter of backing off and diagnosing a simple problem. It turned out that the nozzle was clogged from sand out of a dirty draft. A pain when it happens but not the end of the world. It went well this time because I stayed calm and we kept people informed. That allowed us to get back into the fire quickly and even allowed for a photo opp.

Unfortunately I’ve seen it go the other way as well. In 2007, on the Little Goose fire in Sheridan County Wyoming, a freshly put together contract crew got themselves in a bad spot because they panicked. Their job was a simple one. Their task was to check and refuel a sprinkler system that my crew put in while we finished prepping the remaining structures. We were supposed to go back and do final checks before clearing all units out but when we didn’t hear from them we decided to go back in early. One of the crew members was in a hurry and had put diesel in the mark 3 pump. We found him pulling away trying to get it started. We told him to go get his truck ready to leave while we worked on it because it was getting near time to pull out. He was obviously worried about being down in that area and in his worry ended up forgetting that his engine was a diesel engine and filled it with the only other gas tank he had on it. You guessed it, it was unleaded. Surprising how fast things can go downhill when you panic or rush isn’t it? The problem here wasn’t the equipment but the person operating it but the equipment still went down because of him; and when it did, he didn’t know how to act or what to do. If not for my crew going back in things would have turned out much worse.

I guess the end purpose of this post is to say that while equipment is nice you need to be able to continue your work if it goes down. Stay calm, back out to safety or a position where you can take a moment to assess the situation, and make a new plan if you have to. This example was of wild land fires but the same principle goes for all calls you’ll go on. I’ll leave it off here before this post gets too long and stay safe.

Just Another Day in the Life of a Firefighter

This blog will act more as a portfolio than anything else. It will tell the story behind my work and the art that comes from it. I hope that by providing this I may be able to inspire you the reader to go out and experience what life has to offer. It won’t showcase all of my work but it will show what has the most meaning to me.

I felt it fitting that the first entry into this blog should be the photo that inspired me to make it in the first place. I was looking through my archives and I found it funny; When you’re growing up you think “If I could just make it through college then I’ll be done with schooling and I can make some real money.” Unfortunately that is never the case. There will always be schooling in one form or another. The difference is that in firefighting the training it’s self is usually fun; I’ll be it a little more dangerous than the classroom work most others get to deal with. When I came to the photo “Just Another Day”, I thought that it was a beautiful example of this. It made me realize that it might be fun to share some of my experiences and thoughts. So with out further delays, the photo that brought this sight to you:

When everything seems to be going wrong and all else seems lost, I can always take comfort in knowing that when I go to work It’ll be just another day in the “office”.

 In 2010 Johnson county firefighters went through an additional 136 hours of ongoing training. This included training in areas of extrication, First Responder/EMT refreshers, High angle and confined space rescue and Haz-Mat. It also included training in the fire areas of Oil/Methane, Vehicle, Structure, Wild land, Haz-Mat and many others. This photo was taken during one of those trainings on June 5th, 2010.