Saturday, December 10, 2016

Firefighters in snow

There are some places where people fight (or light) fires all year round.  Other places, like the Grand Canyon, have the possibility of rescues every month of the year.  The place where I work is not one of those places.

When the temperature is below zero and the snow is piling up like it is now, you'd expect the wildland firefighters would be deep into hibernation like the bears are.  The seasonals might be, but the rest of us are still here.

What are we doing, anyway? I know I've addressed this before, but this is one of the most common questions I get, after "Do you fly the helicopter?" No. Nobody wants to see (or ride in) that.  I don't really blame people for asking.  It used to be that you could theoretically shoot a cannon through a fire office in January and not hit anyone.  But climate change and increasing bureaucracy means that we are here, working.  When T. got the job equivalent to mine on an adjacent forest, he negotiated a schedule that would let him have a few months off in the winter.  It worked for maybe one year, after which he was heard to exclaim, "I don't know why I thought I could do that!"

Winter is when all the paperwork happens.  Burn plans, lesson plans for classes, aviation plans, proposals for new programs, the choosing of helicopter vendors for the next four years.  People can be heard clicking through screens, taking their mandatory computer security training, whistleblower refreshers, and everything else that, if not completed, allegedly removes your computer access.  One of the detailers walks back and forth between the buildings with papers.  What is he actually doing?  Maybe nothing, but he looks busy.  He has paper, it must be legit.
Image from http://imgfave.com/
It's also hiring season, in which we get our referral lists, complain about our referral lists, and try to track down potential employees who are off doing something fun like surfing in Costa Rica. The glacial pace of this process means it takes several weeks and provides a good excuse for lack of apparent busyness.  When asked, "What are you working on?" if you say "HIRING" in an aggrieved tone, the other person usually moves on quickly.

Of course, it's not all paperwork.  Sometimes I help plow snow, which means that I sit in the plow truck ostensibly poised to jump out and open gates or shovel hard-to-reach areas, but which usually consists of me drinking cocoa and saying helpful things like, "Why are you plowing this area, nobody uses it in the winter."  Our base gets a lot of snow, so there's always shoveling to be done so I can tunnel into it.  Mice invade my office and must be stopped.  Dangerous icicles need to be removed before they fall on the heads of hopeful job applicants who stop by out of the blue, assuming we are always there.

There is also a plethora of meetings, in which important topics are discussed, projects are assigned, and it seems like there should be cookies, but there never is.  The best thing about these meetings is that when someone asks what you are working on, you can say "HIRING" in your most martyr like tone, and everyone quickly moves on.

Is there a lull in your job, or do you do something different in different seasons?  Do you have a task like hiring that is so understood to be tedious and time consuming that all you have to do is mention it for others to stop asking what you're doing?

7 comments:

  1. Love the photo....and the description of your winter work. After all the paperwork, is it a relief when warmer weather comes and outside work can be started?

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    1. The paperwork never really ends even in summer.

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  2. In a previous job, all I had to do was mention "grant applications" and people's eyes glazed over and they found somewhere else to be.

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  3. always wondered what would happen through the winter - should have known, paperwork !! - doesn't seem nearly as exciting as the action through the warmer months.

    i'm in construction and there is no real seasonality to it - we just bitch about the cold in winter and the heat in summer.

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    1. Construction is hard work. I see houses going up here in the winter, and wonder how those people do it.

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  4. Hahaha. Great descriptions and I love the 'hiring'' line to keep people off your back! I also have to say that any hopefuls that show up and risk the icicles falling on their heads because they assume you are there have got to have a leg up on the ones surfing because at least they know that the work continues year long!!!

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    1. Yes, if they make an effort to come by I definitely consider them. I get hundreds of applicants so it's good to actually see somebody.

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