The time has flown by incredibly fast. What has seemed like only a few weeks has turned into a few months, and the end of the program and the beginning of our time as official Forest Service employees is rapidly approaching. We have had more hours than I can count of practice with our chainsaws and the tools we will need, worked with fire engines, and trained our minds and bodies to be prepared for what looks to be a very busy upcoming fire season.
We start every morning about the same time the sun does; we have our morning PT (physical training) which may be a run, a circuit course, or a hike with our full packs through the mountains. When we start our work for the day, half of us will be running chainsaws and thinning the forest of hazard trees and allowing more room for endangered or less common trees to become healthy again. The other half will be playing the largest game of pick-up-sticks in the world, and stacking the felled and bucked trees for a control burn later when they are dry. We always ride in the same squad trucks to and from the thinning unit, and anywhere else our daily work might take us, so combining that with our close living proximity and shared background has made a very tight-knit group.
At the end of each day we return to our bunkhouse in Frazier where our crew hangs out, has some drinks, watches movies, and shares stories and jokes around the fire pit. Before coming here I had worries that this would be far more “military” in style than I was ready to return to. I was happily surprised at how laid-back and casual the group is. Although we are all veterans (minus a few of our more experienced leadership) we have been able to mix ranks, branches, and jobs of all kinds into a cohesive group that can both work and play on a level playing field. The concept of fraternization doesn’t exist in this environment, and its led to a group that in some ways is even closer than the ones we had in the military. Even on our weekends there are always groups getting together for a night on the town, or just to go fishing or hiking.
I’m very excited to begin the fire season and put the camaraderie and skills we’ve learned to the test, and really see what we can accomplish.