1988. Some of the people who work for me now weren't even born then. A temporary park ranger, I was an unlikely candidate for firefighting. I led nature walks and shepherded rambunctious "Junior Rangers" through the woods. But the West was burning, and everyone with a pulse was signed up for fire training. We sat in a horse barn, bored stiff, as the instructor clicked through a series of slides. "This is a cup trench," he droned. "These are the winds to expect during a cold front passage."
We looked at each other. We were a motley crew of naturalists, fee collectors, and maintenance workers. We wore green pants and Smokey hats. They were really this desperate? On the second day of training we stumbled through the woods, attempting to dig fireline and sharpen tools. We were handed our red cards that stated we were qualified "Firefighter Type 2". We felt important. We felt ready. We had no idea how wildly unprepared we really were.