“I need you to break off and handle that spot fire!” my squad leader yelled back at me from beyond the trees ahead. I had only been digging a line to contain the main fire for 15 minutes, but I was already soaked in sweat from chopping through the dense vegetation and root-dense soil in the 90-degree heat. I took off with a crewmember to attempt to put out the additional fire. Eventually, we would be forced to retreat along our safety route as the main fire grew out of control. Fortunately for us it was all just a simulation, an exercise designed to test our readiness for a similar real scenario. During the After Action Review, we learned that this scenario had been designed to be a losing situation for us so that we could identify when the wisest course of action is to retreat, reorganize, and change our strategy. It may well prove to be a valuable lesson for the months that lie ahead of us.
My time serving on the Umatilla Vet Crew through Mt. Adams Institute’s GreenCorps program has afforded me many opportunities to reflect on my decision to embark on this journey. Replacing cell phones, computers, and TVs with campfires, hiking, and exploring has provided me the kind of clarity that only comes when distractions are stripped away from everyday life. I discovered what was truly important to me: I have to be challenged, I enjoy physically demanding work, and I enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a team. Thanks to this program, I know that all of these things can be found in the wildland fire community. I walked away from a well-paying office job to be a part of this program, and I now feel that it is the wisest decision I could have made.
With the qualifications and experience I’ve acquired over the three months I have spent here, I am well equipped to pursue a career in wildland fire. I now have over 100 hours of experience cutting down trees with chainsaws, a basic understanding of wildland fire science and tactics, and I’ve had the opportunity to network with other wildland firefighters in the community. I have a solid idea of what will be expected of me on the fire line, and I’m confident that I will be up to the task. I’m looking forward to the rest of the fire season and continuing to experience life as a wildland firefighter.