My life is the most random string of experiences. Thus, this blog.
My most recent experience was a five-day wildland firefighting training camp in Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
Those who know me are probably like: what? Why? How? I didn’t know Erisa was interested in fighting wildfires!
Those who know me REALLY WELL are probably thinking: I didn’t know Erisa was interested in fighting wildfires, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Well, apparently I do not know myself that well either, because a couple times over the five days I thought: how did I get here?
It felt almost surreal. I’d heard about the camp from a friend working in the forest service. I’d heard about wildland firefighting from Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire and a friend I met while restoring an old fire lookout tower. He was a retired Montana Hotshot (a type of elite wildland firefighter) who said I might like it. I applied, was accepted, and headed for California.
The training – the third annual one hosted by Los Padres National Forest – consisted of classroom theory/protocols, skills practice (laying water hose and cutting fire lines) and physical training (PT).
Y’all, I got wrecked – WRECKT – on the PT, which was nice. I consider myself an “athletic person” but I was sore from Day One. I say this is nice because I’m kind of lazy and I should definitely work out more. My peak was probably sophomore year of high school when I wheel-barrowed myself (with the help of a partner grabbing my legs) up five floors of New Trier High School’s P stairwell. Since then, I’ve utterly crashed. Our first physical test, which we had to complete or we’d be dismissed, was walking three miles with 45 pounds on our backs in under 45 minutes. But this is nothing like what the actual job of wildland firefighting requires. That’s more like sixty-five pounts up steep hills and rugged terrain, followed by cutting fireline for hours, for up to fourteen days in a row. They reminded us of this fact – that was we were doing was “baby” level – every morning during 6 AM PT. Squats, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, trail hikes.
We did a variety of exercises to simulate (heavily reduced) what our experience would be like if we were on a crew for the summer. Additionally, they woke us up at midnight one night to simulate getting called at night to head to an assignment.
Here’s a video created by the organizers:
It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. This was actually one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Initially, I felt discouraged. I can’t keep up with these people (the physically fit women in the camp and the future crew members I envisioned in my head). But as time went on and I talked to some graduates of last year’s camp, who were instructors this year, I realized that I could do it if I put my mind to it and committed myself to constantly improving my fitness by pushing my limits. Several times this idea was reiterated by different people: there is no fitness level where one has arrived and can now “chill”. EVERYONE on a crew is constantly trying to improve their fitness. The only failure is giving up.
So I’m giving myself the goal of being able to make it on a fire crew this summer. I want to give it a shot because: 1) I want to set a goal and achieve it, and 2) Working a season on wildfires seems like an amazing experience. The teamwork and camaraderie required of the job seems like the kind of supportive, working-towards-a-common-goal kind of community I’ve been craving. I got a taste of it as a member of alpha squad during the five days of training camp and it was amazing. I feel truly honored to have been selected to participate in the camp with twenty-three other smart, talented women. We supported each other, taught each other, and pushed each other and it was great!
I could probably rant about this awesome experience for thousands of words, but I’ll stop here. Oh, also I was in the local news!