Fire Fighting Summer



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Fire Fighter!

Smokey the Bear

In the news today were several stories about massive forest fires threatening communities and driving people from their homes. Terrible!

It reminded me of one of my jobs in college. In the summer of my sophomore year, my father contacted people he knew and secured me a summer job as a fire fighter at the Prescott National Forest. That is about 90 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona.

Hot damn, I had a job! I wasn’t exactly certain what it entailed and I had no experience fighting any type of fire, but it paid $1.84 an hour and that was OK by me.

The first day I was on the job, I got to wash down a truck that had taken a direct hit of a plane load of fire-retardant dropped the day before. There had been a small fire. The whole truck was sort of a rusty orange. The chemicals missed the fire entirely, but squarely landed on the fire truck. It was bright orange and in need of a wash.

Well, OK.

 “Clean up the truck, that’s it?”
 “No, when you’re done there are shovels and axes that need to be sharpened”.

That is what I did most days, sharpen shovels and axes. If not that, I was on a garbage collection crew that serviced the camp areas in the forest. Not exactly my idea of what a firefighter did.

At that time, the National Forests were rated, given a number indicating dryness. The highest rating was 96 which meant the forest was very dry and the hazard was extreme. Because of the severity of the drought the Prescott National Forest and four others were given an enhanced rating of 100! That meant essentially that if a fire started the fire would explode through the forest at more than 60 miles per hour.

You could not out run it.! Our forest was a tinderbox!

Fortunately, other than the fire that occurred the day before I started to work, that summer we had only one fire that destroyed only one tree. A lightning strike. Now this might seem insignificant to you but it was serious business. The strike took out a tree on the edge of a cliff, below which was thick forest with brush. If the tree fell into the canyon below hell would pay. So we had to get to the tree and quickly.

After maneuvering our pumper truck as close to the site as possible, our crew, four of us, went on along on foot. To reach the tree we were required to climb up and down cliffs and over mesas. After we finally felled the tree, we spent hours scraping mud off the nearby ground and packing it into the charred section of the tree. There was no water available and this was the only way we could insure the fire was extinguished.

So that sums up my fire fighting experience.

There was one other close call. As our crew was heading home after work one day, one of the fire towers radioed that he spotted a “smoke”, indicating fire. Probably a lightning strike. We turned the truck around and headed toward the fire station excited with the possibility of actually fighting a fire and realizing we would be paid overtime.

But the tower had gone silent. No radio!

After about thirty minutes the radio came back to life,

“Noth’n to fret about boys. Go home. I went and put it out.”

More to come

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