I Will Survive: A Dedication To Determination

All emergency fields provide difficult challenges and I happily get to work closely with many of them. There’s far more effort that goes into these professions than most people ever see. I’ve trained with multiple agencies and like many firefighters I’m also an EMT; but being on the fire department, it’s the one I hold dear to my heart and the one I know about personally.  I’ve been surprised to find that many people understand that a firefighter goes through rigorous training to join the department but think that it ends there. It’s a sad misunderstanding. Training only begins in the class; the real lessons are learned in the field for the duration of their career. Beyond that, there are constant refresher courses, and discussions to help expand our knowledge and refine our skills. This combined with their jobs takes considerable time away from family and friends.

The dedication to training is only one kind of determination though. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters show determination that goes beyond just training. I’ve seen them demonstrate determination in going on and doing what needs done when their own minds and bodies wants to revolt against them. When they’re sick, injured, facing problems in their personal lives, or having trouble dealing with things they’ve seen; it doesn’t matter. When the call goes out, they will put all that behind them. They are so dedicated that they’ll put the job above themselves, to the point that you have to stop them for their safety.  It’s that dedication that I feel and I take pride in every time I see this picture.

There’s a quote that sums up that determination perfectly. Florian von Lorch was a General in the Roman army in charge of the fire brigades. When faced under threat of being burned at the stake, St. Florian declared “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.” Now I’m not going to get into some religious debate here and I’m not going to go into great history about St. Florian. The material on those subjects can be found with a simple search and since you’re reading this I’m sure you have the ability to do that search in a matter of seconds. It’s the determination behind the words that inspires me. It’s the dedication that firefighters have given throughout their history, and one I am proud to continue on.

No matter what challenges we face, no matter how many times we are faced with a challenge or loss, we will always come back. We will always help those in need. It is said that a firefighter that has dies saving someone has not truly died… May I be so lucky as for that to be my fate. Moriar et oriatur ab igne cineres. (I die and arise from the ashes of the fire)

Nostalgia: Learning To Enjoy The Good Things In Life

In the back of a desk drawer there’s an old poster, it’s been there for ages gone by. I was once told it comes from a time when fires raged and people sacrificed themselves for the lives of others. I finally decided it deserved to be framed and while there, the shop owner informed me that the bulky subject of the photo was called an “engine” though it looks like no engine I’ve ever seen. The primitive clothes in the background, used for protecting the individuals that sacrificed themselves.  Oh what a life it would have been to live back in those days. The days of gallant actions and adventure around every corner.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that way but looking into the past has that effect on people sometimes. And I’m no exception; there’s always been an old poster on our department wall and it always gave me this feeling. I’ve always wondered in 100, 200, maybe 300 years, what are they going to think of the life and times we lived. Even looking back on the recent history of my department I find myself wanting to idealize it. It’s kind of funny how fast one develops a sense of nostalgia. Not long after I got onto the department, I was sitting around the fire hall, listening to the stories of some of the more seasoned members; I was in awe of their stories. They had such great memories and a joy to their eyes as they retold them. I was dying to experience those memories, to make some of my own. It was something that I knew I would have to wait many years for… It’s good to know from time to time that what you know can be wrong.

I’ve been working in fire for eleven years now and I had to pause a moment and chuckle when I found myself telling stories to the new rookies. I didn’t, and still to a point don’t, think they quite understood how good they have it. They tend to take some of the equipment for granted. It’s easy to do when that’s all you’ve experienced and it’s probably how my mentors looked at me. Who knows, they may still, though I hope it’s to a great degree less than they used to. I’ve seen a lot of changes and advances in our department and I try to take every little thing to heart.

When I first got on, our department was considerably smaller. We had way too much area to cover and far too little personnel and equipment to do the job effectively. We covered all of Johnson County except inside the town of Buffalo, giving us a total of about forty five hundred square miles. Our gear was old, outdated, and handed down from person to person. Our equipment was running but in constant need of repair. Even the hall was rented from the county. Our meetings were tailgate meetings and after a long fire, we all sat back cracked a beer and enjoyed a job well done. Those were the good times.

Don’t get me wrong, times aren’t so bad now. It’s just that I’ve seen a lot of changes go by quickly. There were new additions, new equipment and now a new hall. I find myself saying things like “I remember when” and “when I first got on” and the people I’m telling it too are newer than me while a few of them are older than me. It’s a feeling that I liked and I wanted to share with whoever might be going through the old department photos sometime in the future. I wanted to immortalize the last few moments of the old fire hall, so I took this picture just before we moved halls. It’s my dedication to the old hall when our bunks were by the engines and we weren’t above sharing gear. It was a time when the tailgate meeting was normal. In short, it’s a dedication to the good ol’ times.

Spring Storm: Reminiscing Over the Past

It’s late in the day and I sit here in my warm recliner, looking out over the storm going on outside, and I’m reminded of an early spring storm we had some years ago. The storm was raging on much as it is this winters day with only the time of year being different. It wasn’t a peaceful night for long, as the call goes out for a single vehicle roll near the pass. If the storm here in town was bad then up at the pass it was nothing anyone should have been out in. At almost 10,000 feet the storm was pounding the pass and dropping snow faster than plows could hope to keep up with.

We look out at this weather and we think of how nice it is inside and how we dread going out in it. It’s easy to think of it as an inconvenience and get irritated over it. Often times I find I have to take the trip out in the truck to put myself in the right frame of mind. It must have been terrifying for that lady, trapped in her vehicle, the cold blowing in through the broken window. She had no cell signal, no way of knowing if anyone even knew that she was in need of help. A passerby had saw the wreck and drove down to where they got signal to call it in; but she had no way of knowing that.

It was probably fifteen minutes before we got the call and another twenty for us to make it that far up. We use the time to our advantage. We all know our roles in this play but we talk them out anyhow. We discuss where to place the engine if the vehicle is still in the road, or what we’ll do if it slid past the shoulder and off the edge. As new information comes in we update our strategy so by the time we arrive on scene we are as prepared as possible.

We arrive on scene just behind the ambulance. Our community is a small enough one that fire and ambulance are separate entities. We train together so we can work together but we have our separate jobs. And it’s times like these that provide necessity for it. Our firefighters are EMT’s as well so when we arrive on scene we can provide treatment but we need to send her down and get her where she can receive proper treatment.

Once she’d safely on her way down we finish securing the scene, directing traffic, and filling out the run report. It was an easy call when all said and done and everything went as planned. It may have been a cold afternoon but when all said and done that didn’t really bother me. I come back to a warm recliner and enjoy another snowy evening.

As I sit here reminiscing, the pager goes off once again and I get to go out on another call. Another car wreck on slick roads…. I guess my reminiscing can wait for another time when I sit in my recliner looking out of a snowy night, thinking about a call I once had.

Ahhh spring time in Wyoming... sometimes you never know what you're going to get.

Devastation: A moment when time stands still

I really like the contrast in this one. It makes it feel like you're there and just for a second time has stopped. The fire has gone through and nuked the ground, wiping clean the once dense vegetation in a matter of moments. When this fire went through it took less than a minute to reduce heavy sage to the bare ground that was left.

 

Aptly named for obvious reasons; this picture is actually named from the sense of irony that it inspires in me. It brings up feelings probably completely opposite to what an independent viewer would feel. For me, it inspires feelings of joy and reminiscing. I have to admit, this is probably my favorite photograph to date, and not just of my own work but of any I’ve seen. It’s not that I feel I’m the best out there (not really good even) or that I have the best equipment, it’s more of a personal thing. That kind of sounds arrogant but let me explain.

This fire was making a hard run at this time, to the point that we could only watch as it turned acres upon acres of trees and brush to simple ash in mere moments. We were tired, we were thirsty, and we were just hoping that our plans would come through. The smoke was a choking cloud that made you wonder what air tasted like and the heat was blistering. This was an inferno but amidst this turmoil I found a moment of perfection. Time slowed to a stop and held its breath while I took a picture of its beauty. It felt like a scene from a movie. It was one of those few moments when you feel like you have all the time in the world to look at your surroundings; to just walk around and experience a single moment in time.

It’s a rare thing for me to capture a moment so fully on camera as it was for me being there but to me that’s what this picture represents. Each time I look at this picture I relive the feelings of being on that fire. I remember the hard work and yes I’ll admit it, the good times that I had while fighting the fire. I’d be lying to say that I don’t enjoy a good fire, and fool if I thought I could make any of you think otherwise. And that’s where it’s personal. No one may ever look at this picture and see anything more than a fire gone by but for me, I see the fire exactly how I remember it. I see beauty, accomplishment, and everything that isn’t devastation.

My own insight on this picture shapes everything it is to me. It’s what gives it the beauty I see. Though I can’t help but wonder… When you first saw this picture did it merit a second glance? Was there a beauty in it for you as there was for me, or did you come to read this article out of mere curiosity? And if you have gotten this far; do your initial feelings of the picture still exist, or have they changed? And if you’re really feeling ambitious, tell me what you see in the picture. Regardless if you like it or not, feel free to voice it. I love hearing the opinions of others.

Chaotic Serenity: What’s Never Expected

There are always certain things that you expect when you’re on a fire; peace isn’t one of them. It was probably the most surreal thing I have ever felt. It may sound cliché but when I was taking the picture it seemed as though the fire went silent. The heat of it radiated off of everything and made it feel like someone had wrapped me in a blanket but it was perfectly calm and everything around was peaceful, including the wildlife. There were birds chirping, even a deer lying down nearby. All the while a fire silently raging on… it was almost as if the day refused to acknowledge it happening.

It really strikes me as funny; I’ve spent some time trying to remember how loud it was but I just can’t. All I can remember is the sound of the chickadee chirping in the background while somewhere off to my right a meadowlark sang its tune. Just about ten yards to the right of this picture a doe is laying in a grassy field watching everything unfold and piney creek babbles on behind me. Just the slightest breeze occasionally moves through, not even strong enough to really disturb the smoke, just lightly tussling the grass and the sun shines down in a cloudless sky. I’ve never seen a nicer day.

When I’m too old to work anymore and the night is closing down around me, this will be one of those memories I cherish as I sit on a cold winter’s eve and sip coffee.

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.