1. "That must be exciting!" Well...yes, sometimes. I've been a firefighter for over half my life now so sometimes I lose my frame of reference. What might be exciting to someone who works in a cube farm is just another day to me. (Also, if I got to go to a cube farm, I'd probably be unreasonably excited by computers that actually work, and printers that don't take two hours to print a 100 page PDF document). Yes, there are exciting moments: chasing fire, saving houses...but also long stretches of boredom and monotony, doing project work and waiting for fires to actually happen.
2. "Do you jump out of planes?" No, those are my buddies the smokejumpers. They are great, but I've known too many broken ones to have considered that job for myself. We take different methods to get to a fire, but once we are there, our job is the same.
3. "You're so brave!" Um...how do you answer this? "Yes, why yes I am!"? The truth is, a lot of stuff scares me, but we learn to assess and manage risk. I've done some pretty brave things on the fireline, but I've also known when to back off and let nature take its course.
4. "That's a hard job." Yes, it can be. Hard on your body, hard on relationships, mentally hard sometimes. Other times, when it's just you and one other person perched on a peak in the middle of nowhere watching a fire, it's the best job ever.
5. "How did you get started doing that?" Honestly, it was really an accident. I never meant to make this a career.
6. "Do you fly the helicopter?" No, we have a pilot for that. Thank goodness, because I'm really bad at it.
7. "Do you fight fires all over the country?" Yes, we go all over the place, and some lucky people get to go places like Australia and Russia.
8. "You're lucky, you get paid to exercise." Yes, in theory we get "PT time" every day. Often it doesn't happen because of a fire or a project. It's great, but we don't have the budget for workout equipment so we can sometimes be found lifting logs and rocks (it works, though). Also, it's necessary: we are often required to hike long distances out of fires; 20 miles is common. Where I work people sometimes hike 50 miles to get back to civilization. You have to be fit to be able to do that. Whether you're 19 years old or 55, nobody cares: you have to keep up, and carry all your stuff.
9. "Why don't you cut more trees down so people's houses don't burn?" Sorry, there's just not enough money or personnel to do this everywhere. If people who live in the forest would clear out around their houses, it would reduce their risk greatly. I've watched houses burn and it's heartbreaking to know that a little brushing and cutting by the landowner would have saved them.
10. And my favorite: "You women don't really fight fires, do you? You just go along and cook for the men." In this guy's defense, this was said about 20 years ago and he didn't know any better. Men who camp out on the fireline are usually pretty good cooks if we get fresh food (or know how to doctor up MREs). And if you need anything sewn, see a smokejumper. Most of them know their way around a sewing machine like no other.
What do people say about YOUR job?