We were about to spend the week rating job applications for permanent firefighting positions. It's all supposed to be confidential, so I can't say any more about the process. But the phrase stayed with me. And actually, it kind of depressed me.
If I had known, going to my first fire or accepting my first permanent job, that it was a fifteen or twenty or even a thirty year decision, I might have run screaming in the other direction. I would have felt trapped. I suppose there are people who set their feet on a road and never deviate, just know that is what they are going to do for decades. That's not me.
After all, I drifted around the country like a gypsy for years, going from one seasonal job to another. I went on international trips on a whim, buying tickets only a few weeks ahead of time. I moved to Moab one winter just because a friend lived there and said it was a good place.
Because I always thought of firefighting as temporary, there always seemed to be a way out. Otherwise, the thought of decades of carrying heavy stuff up hills, being exhausted and dirty and constantly vigilant would have been too much. Because there always seemed to be an escape (after all, I never planned to do this, it just kind of happened), I just kept doing it, until now, I've been doing it more than half my life.
As we flipped through paper, I wondered how many of the people who were selected would stick around. Was it a twenty year decision for them, or just something to do for awhile? Maybe it was sort of accidental that they ended up firefighters, like I did. I wanted to give them advice. I wanted to tell them, fires start and they go out, whether we are there or not. Don't forget to have a way out if you need one. Buy that ticket to Patagonia. Don't be so serious. But in the end, everyone follows their own road. Some people's are straight. Some are more crooked, like mine, but we see pretty interesting things along the way.