Sunday, February 19, 2012

to my friends who left fire

I won't see you on the fireline anymore. We won't ever patrol the green together, crashing through the brush looking for errant embers. We won't sit next to each other, field sharpening our pulaskis and gossiping, bartering lunch items. I will never again look over my shoulder and see you smiling in the back seat of the helicopter.

You're not firefighters anymore. You're nurses, teachers, fulltime moms, and pilots. You're back at school. Some of you stayed with the government, but in professional jobs that come with an office and a title that doesn't include the word "technician". Some of you once worked for me in temporary jobs, but now your salary surpasses mine. When you sign your name on a document, it means something. People respect you.

Sometimes I'm jealous of you. You get days off every week. You can even take a vacation during the summer. Unlike me, you will never have someone that you dated say to you, "You should probably just date another firefighter instead." (Um, thanks?) Your position description will never again include the words "moves dirt." Your crew will never be called to the main office to move furniture because you are the "fire crew", while office folks, who I will see later that day in the gym lifting weights, refuse to carry anything. When you go to work, you are pretty sure you will be home that night, and not three weeks later. You can get a puppy anytime you want. You won't be kicked out of your job at age 57, ready or not, because back in the day, 57 was old and firefighters were supposed to be "young and vigorous."  Every year, for just a few minutes, I think about leaving too.

Still. Don't you miss it? Walking out onto the helibase first thing in the morning, before the mechanics even get there, the helicopters sleeping with blades tied down, the day bright and full of possibility. Driving the engine down a narrow road chasing smoke, navigating by guess and intuition. The snarl of the saw, the sight of the night on fire, the feeling of translational lift.

I've done this job so long I don't know how to do anything else. It's a part of me now. I took a different road than you, my friends who left. We won't ever drive back from a fire together late at night, so tired we just want to lean on each other and sleep, our hair and clothes saturated with smoke. But strangely enough, the twists and turns in our separate paths sometimes bring us back together. I'll tell you about fire. You will tell me about who you are now. We'll laugh like we did back then. See you all soon.

2003, Grand Canyon North Rim


  1. Enjoyed the post, and the look at various lives. Don't agree "I don't know how to do anything else!"

  2. Well, you know how to write and tell a story beautifully, that's for sure!


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