Saturday, January 5, 2013


Illness inevitably creeps into any fire camp of significant size or duration.  Pretty soon it invades every crew, people hacking and sniffling all over the fireline.  Add in a few portapotties without handwash stations and bottles of water floating in a communal trough of ice, and it only gets worse.

Helitack people tend to boycott staying at fire camp for this very reason, setting up tents at the helibase instead.  Crewmembers who get sick slink off to the vehicles to quarantine themselves.  On a fire in Minnesota in October, our whole crew became infected.  K., working as air support, was the carrier monkey.  Sneezing on my computer as he printed out a helibase cost summary, he grumpily declared, "This job has cost me  two marriages and four relationships!"  Maybe there's another reason for that, I thought irritably, sensing that no amount of hand sanitizer could save me now.

The damage was done.  Soon our two vehicles were full of sick people.  For awhile, J. was the lone holdout.  "I have a great immune system," he bragged, while boldly touching every contaminated surface.  It all caught up with him as he boarded a plane home, leaving early to take an exam for a job he desperately wanted.  Despite his misery as he probably infected the other passengers, he did pass the test (Hey there, Trooper B.!)

I went on a scouting mission to the medical tent.  There, they had plenty of cold medicine and cough drops. I asked for some vitamin C or Emergen-C for the people not yet sick.  "Oh, we're not allowed to order anything preventative," the EMT said.  We were doomed.  The two vehicles sounded like rolling TB wards on the 1200 mile drive home.

Everyone recovered of course, enough to find it amusing that we discovered a stash of cold medicine still in the Dodge Magnum the next spring.  It was just a matter of time though.  It was time to stock up again on Purell and Airborne.  The "camp crud" was out there as it always is, lying in wait at the next fire up the road.

Fire medical tent. Photo by Mike Ferris, USDA Forest Service.


  1. Sure must be a lot of fire camps out here this winter (sneeze, cough, gasp, cough some more). Your post probably reads a lot more amusing than it was (is, will be) at the time.

  2. A-choo! Hope you can stay virus-free as long as possible.


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