Saturday, March 8, 2014

There is no vanity in firefighting

Plenty of firefighters have big egos, especially those of the male variety.  But they aren't vain.  You can't be.  Here's why:

Clothes.  The clothes are all men's.  There's no vanity sizing here like there is in regular women's clothes.  (Did you know that a size 6 in the 1970s would be labeled size 2 today?)  Fire clothes come in XS to XX Large.  They fit like you would expect men's clothes to fit.  There was once a misguided attempt to create women's pants; these fit weirdly and were the worst "Mom Jeans" ever.   The boots are men's boots.  I wear a size 5.5 in them.

Hair.  You will not have nice hair during fire season.  If you do, it's not very busy and/or you aren't really an operational firefighter.  You can attempt a nice French braid, but after hours and days of working outside, it will be dirty and full of split ends.  Roots, if you have any, will appear.  You may end up with an unintentional ombre look.  You wear a helmet most of the time.  Guys' hair will stick up in interesting ways that city guys pay a lot to replicate.  Some give up and shave their heads.

Skin.  No real firefighters wear makeup.  It would be a mess.  Sunscreen and insect repellant is about it.  There's no room to tote your skin care routine in your bag.  Your face is usually dirty anyway.  I've gone for 3 weeks without taking a shower.  These days you are more likely to have shower facilities on fires, but sometimes you're just too tired...and your clothes are dirty anyway.

Weight.  Everybody knows it.  Worse, the number they know is not your real weight: you know, the one you get first thing in the morning when you wake up.  This is your FLIGHT weight.  This includes about 10-15 pounds of clothes, boots, and flight helmet.  It also often includes your fire pack, which weighs anywhere from 25-45 pounds.  So there it is, a horrifying number next to your name on a manifest for everyone to see.  You have to get over it.  Lying isn't a good idea because a. there is usually a scale around, and b. You don't want to overload the helicopter because then it might crash.  I regularly add weight on to the numbers people give me.  At this point, I can pretty much tell what you weigh.  If you come up to me and say your flight weight is 115 I will write down at least 130.  Sorrynotsorry.

Who you are.  You can't be mysterious or have too many secrets when you sleep inches away from other people, eat MREs together, and work next to each other for 16 hours a day.  Let me just say: You go to the bathroom IN THE WOODS, people.  Under these conditions your real personality will come out.  Let's hope it's a pretty good one.

The good thing is, in the winter you can take out flatirons, mascara, and cute shoes if you want.  You can go to a retirement party and be amused at how many guys come up to you, guys you know from the fireline who don't give you a second glance in the summer.  You can think deep thoughts about how our society views beauty.  Or you can just be relieved that for half the year, you have a lot less to worry about.

13 comments:

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    1. I work with Canadian firefighters a lot. They are usually so funny and laid back.

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  2. Such great word-pictures! Beauty is dirt-and-ash deep? Sounds as if you have the priorities of firefighting straight. Bet women and men who are bothered by all this don't make it to a second season.

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  3. Sound like a really interesting job - have you written at all about how you became a firefighter?

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    1. Hi Molly, here's a link to one of my first posts. Basically I was working as a national park ranger and they wanted everyone to take firefighting training. I went on a fire and was hooked! But I think I will revisit this in a future post. Thanks for the idea!
      http://accidental-firefly.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-it-all-started-part-2.html

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  4. I'd never want a job where you have to dress up, do your hair, and wear makeup. Luckily I work in an office full of engineers, so no problem! Thanks for the interesting post.

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    1. Thanks Linda! I would be interested to hear more about your work.

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  5. Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I enjoyed reading your post, and your job is extremely interesting. I will be back.

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    1. Thanks! I have bookmarked yours as well.

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  6. I know I wouldn't last a day out there, but there are a lot of appealing aspects to firefighting and you touched on them all. I would love to just wash my face, put my hair in a ponytail and not worry about having to look put together ALL the time. Having to look presentable at my corporate gig really cuts into my precious sleep time :)

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    1. Yes, it is nice to wake up and just run out the door!

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  7. There is a firefighter named Lynn
    Who writes of the places she's been
    In summer she's dirty
    In winter she's flirty (?)
    And she handles it all with a grin.

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