Monday, March 4, 2013

What's in YOUR fire pack?

"The longer I do this job, the less I carry," George declared.  He was nearly 60 at the time, and had been fighting fire since the 1970s, so he probably knew what he was talking about.  I sensed a kindred spirit immediately, since I'm a downsizer from way back.

Most crews have lists of what rookies should put in their packs.  This is a good thing, or you might find people out there with electric razors and iPads instead of food.  I don't remember the first list I tried to abide by.  It was probably written on a typewriter, since fire crews didn't have computers then.  It probably had items like cotton bandana (2) and, euphemistically, feminine hygiene products. And, it probably had way too much stuff.  Admittedly, it's a fine line.  The helicopter won't bring you extra socks after it drops you off, but unless you're lucky, it won't carry them out for you either.

I've seen all kinds of things in people's packs on the fireline.  Hardcover books.  GameBoys.  Speakers for iPods.  Stuffed animals.   Pieces of their regular lives, along for the ride.  My pack will never win a prize for most interesting content, unless you find tuna, a space blanket, a fleece jacket, a weather kit and a few other boring things fascinating.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a minimalist because I don't want to be comfortable.  On a rappel fire when I saw T. cleaning the ash off his face with baby wipes, I briefly wished for some.  When C. pulled a kindle out of her pack while we waited for our ride from the trailhead, I felt envy.  But, well, not enough to carry it all, maybe 20 miles.  If you've ever had to pack a few empty water blivets, swivels, and bladder bags out of a fire in addition to your stuff, you know what I mean.

Sometimes you might get bored.  You might get a little cold.  But you can look at the fire if you don't have a book at night, or volunteer to hike down the hill to get water.  After all, as George liked to say, "you're not really a helitack firefighter unless you've spent a night out on a fire with your helmet bag on your head and socks on your hands to keep warm."

Still, if rookies ask what to take, I produce a list, composed neatly on a computer in Word 2010 (no, this is the government, we won't have 2013 until probably 2016).  They peruse it anxiously and go out to buy bandanas.  I don't say anything.  They'll learn.

Crew building fireline in 1934.  US Forest Service Photo by KD Swan.

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