Almost 30 years ago, I was a firefighter. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter, even if just in my heart and in my memories. I loved everything (well, almost everything) about that job.
The adrenalin rush when the call came
The drive / hike / flight to the location
The sights, smells, and feel of fire
And then there’s the work. Back breaking work. Digging fire line; putting out hot spots; mopping up; feeling the ground for heat.
The soot, found later, on almost every part of the body and in almost every orifice.
The post fire meal of steak or burger, and beer.
Whether a Groundpounder, a Smoke Jumper, or on a Helitack crew, fire fighters can’ t wait to get out there and battle the fire.
Thirty years ago, we didn’t see massive fires like we do now. I never fought against such destruction and devastation. I was aware of the danger, and practiced getting into my “shake and bake” fire tent during training. But I truly didn’t worry when I went out on a fire.
Perhaps that is the benefit of being young.
I wear my firefighting boots when I ride. I’ve shown my friends the drops of retardant still visible after all these years. Those boots carried me up and down the mountains of northern Idaho then, and they protect me as I ride the bike now.
After 30 years, I’ve had to have the boots repaired a few times and I always make sure that the cobbler knows not to remove the history
The signs of wear,
the still visible fire retardant,
and the miles I’ve worn them, whether on the ground or on the bike.
I look at this picture from 1982, of myself with my buddies and dear friends, Kevin and Randy. Look how YOUNG we were. Randy, a 30 year smoke jumper who just retired last year knows and lived the danger. Me? I thought of it as the best job ever, but I never really felt the danger.
I see us in this photo and realize that at 21 to 23 years of age, we were the same age of many of the young men who died on the Yarnell Hill Fire.
We can argue the reasons for the tragedy:
triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds, and dry conditions that caused the fire to explode;
years of fire suppression that increased the fuel on the ground
the building of homes too close to that fuel
But what really matters is that 19 wildland firefighters are gone.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots
Andrew Ashcroft – Age 29
Robert Caldwell – Age 23
Travis Carter – Age 31
Dustin Deford – Age 24
Christopher Mackenzie- Age: 30
Eric Marsh – Age: 43
Grant McKee- Age: 21
Sean Misner – Age: 26
Scott Norris – Age: 28
Wade Parker- Age: 22
John Percin- Age: 24
Anthony Rose – Age: 23
Jesse Steed – Age: 36
Joe Thurston – Age: 32
Travis Turbyfill- Age: 27
William Warneke – Age: 25
Clayton Whitted – Age: 28
Kevin Woyjeck – Age: 21
Garret Zuppiger – Age: 27
To Donate to help cover costs for funerals, and family / survivors, please see the website for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation