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)

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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.

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?

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.