Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's summer! Or not.

Our mountains are still buried in white.  Crews clearing trails soon run into impassable creeks and several feet of snow.  In the valley,  the weather is moody, one 70 degree day turning rainy and cold in a few hours.  We wear our fire pants and boots to work, but just to clean and cut firewood and teach classes.  My assistant escapes for a week for a pre-positioning assignment with a water scooper plane in Michigan.  I send another crewmember to Alaska with the hotshots, where they slog damply through the black forest in the rain.

I savor my time off.  I wear girl clothes and go to a barbecue with friends I haven't seen in months.  The next night I have dinner with some other good friends.

I take my kayak out for the first time of the season.  The campsite hosts approach eagerly, excited to see someone using the canoe/kayak ramp at the lake.  "I've never seen anyone get in a kayak before," the man remarks.  I get in, hopefully gracefully, and glide out into the lake.

I float around and gaze at the houses on the lake.  Cute cabins are interspersed with fancier homes.

There's no point in wondering what's next.  There will be fires, or there won't.  If there aren't, there will be friends and hiking and kayaking on rivers and lakes.  I'm ready for any of it.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Apparently I'm in Alaska.

I was spending a quiet Friday night at home watching Say Yes to the Dress doing yoga.  Ok, not really (the yoga part).  My work phone started ringing, which doesn't usually happen at 8 pm this time of year.  It was an Alaska number.  Well, I had a crewmember on a fire there.  Maybe he needed something.

"Hi, do you have any foldatanks there?" the person on the line asked.  Reflexively, I looked around.  Hot tub, check.  Bathtub, sure.  Foldatanks (a large collapsible water tank), not so much.  I pulled my gaze away from the $24,000 wedding gown on the TV.  Clearly, somebody thought I was up in Alaska on one of the large fires.

"Um...I'm in Montana," I attempted to explain to the baffled firefighter.  "I'll come up if you WANT."

I heard the rustling of paper.  "Your name is on the Incident Action Plan as helibase manager," he stated.  "You mean you aren't even ordered for this fire?"

"Noooo...." I answered, but I had a moment of weirdness.  I'm sure that someone was using an old template for the plan and left my name in there by mistake:  I was up there on a fire last year.  But what if?  What if in an alternate universe I was up in Alaska, rounding up foldatanks and directing helicopters?  Was my other self getting bitten by mosquitoes and enjoying nearly 24 hour daylight?  What was real and what wasn't?

"I've never had this kind of conversation before," said the firefighter, clearly rattled.  I hope he finds his foldatanks.  As for me, I'll be looking for my fire paycheck in a couple of weeks.  My other self must be working hard.  Meanwhile, that wedding dress looks terrible!

Monday, May 19, 2014

rescue me

If you're hurt on a fire around here, or in the backcountry, these are the angels who will come rescue you.

 We were visited today by Alert, the local medevac helicopter, and by a private search and rescue aircraft.
This helicopter was purchased by a local philanthropist, a (rich) venture capitalist.  He pays for all costs associated with it; rescues are free of charge. 

When I worked in Wyoming, Harrison Ford did the same thing, except he also flew the helicopter.  Sadly, although I saw him around town, I missed my opportunity to meet and marry him.  Darn you, Calista!
Image from here
The medics and pilots showed us around the aircraft.

While I've saved a few people in my career, these people save lives all the time.

Thanks, guys.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to attract men in one easy step

1.  Buy this truck.

Men flock to it.  From the crowd you can occasionally decipher phrases like "Fox shocks!" and "lockers" and "6.2 liter."  In a sea of Subarus, my truck is like a supermodel hanging out with ordinary folks.

I've also heard some interesting statements from men implying that the only people who should be driving it are, well, men.  Like, "That's four times the truck you need," and my personal favorite, "That truck hauls ass, and you don't have much ass to haul."  Um, thanks? I think.

 I drove my last truck for 15 years.  It didn't get much attention lately, besides the occasional, "Do you know you have an oil leak?"  I'm still getting used to power windows and door locks, let alone a backup camera and no gas cap.  Best of all, it's mine: no other name on the title, paid for by 14 hour days fighting fire.

I get it, guys, I really do.  It's like when you see me every day in my fire clothes and ponytail and I'm one of you, but if I put on makeup and stiletto boots and go to a party, you all want to talk to me.  I don't blame you.  I love my truck too.  In fact, I think I'll go gaze at it some more.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The minions are coming!

In a week the seasonal employees will start work.  Already? Can it be that time again?

I'm not sure how it works in the corporate world when you hire temporary help.  But when I choose a seasonal worker, I'm not even close to being done. This is how to do what is called "onboarding an employee":

1.  Spend months assuring the prospective minion that yes, she or he actually has a job, even though no paperwork has appeared.  Realize that the paperwork was indeed emailed to them, but went to their spam folder, where it languished and was eventually deleted.  Persuade a harried case manager via email to send it again and copy it to me.  Minion gets it and is instructed to complete a form and fax it in.  Some do and some don't.  Sometimes it gets lost.  Receive threatening emails from HR saying the person won't be hired on time if they don't complete the form.  Forward said threatening emails to the prospective employee.  Effectively scare them.

2.  Hound minions to see if they have received a SECOND email with the OFFICIAL paperwork (the first one was TENTATIVE).  Realize that it has once again gone to spam.  Get it re-issued.  Ensure the minions complete a boatload of forms.  Feel relieved that they all are present and accounted for, aren't travelling in Tibet, and all have internet access.

3.  Scan minions when they show up.  See no obvious crutches or casts on extremities.  Present them with citizenship forms they must immediately fill out and send in, or else they can't be at work.  In the off chance they changed citizenship even though they have worked there for the last six seasons, they all must fill the forms out.

4.  Ensure that each employee gets fingerprints taken and fills out an exhaustive background check for Homeland Security, detailing every place they have lived and worked for the last several years.  Receive several forms from Homeland Security asking me to verify this information.

5.  Initiate agency-generated performance evaluations for each employee.  Attempt to relate the bureaucratic language to their actual jobs.  Mission results? Apply civil rights policies?  Seriously, just show up on time, work, and get along with everybody.  It's simple.

6.  Go over operating procedures, plans, policies, forms, etc etc etc.  Feel your own eyes glazing over.  Administer "driving tests".  Hope nobody hits anything.

7.  Issue gear.  Realize you don't have the right size pants.  Order said $200 pants.  Look in vain for stuff that went missing over the winter.  Order said gear.  Find the original gear months later in a weird place.

8.  Attempt to activate everyone's computer account.  For fun, try and figure out who will be the problem and won't be able to get on the computer all summer.  Spend hours on the phone with the help desk.

9.  Administer the "work competency test", a physical fitness test everyone must pass in order to be employed.  Appropriately, it is usually raining and cold. 

10.  Look at their training records.  Some will inevitably be missing.  Send the nicest person to talk to the dispatchers, in hopes of getting their records updated.

11.  Hustle minions from one training class to another.  Eventually recognize the "Powerpoint Stare" and force them outside for a run.  Forget to tell them about possible bears and sketchy people on the trails.  It's also really easy to get lost.  Oh well, survival of the fittest.

So, welcome, minions!  We're happy you're here.  But I'm exhausted already!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Smelly Train/Nice Bag Part II

Lately I've felt a little like a crankypants.  It was a busy winter at work, and sometimes people weren't pleasant.  The winter was long and now it's raining like a mofo.  I can't think of anything to write in my blog.  Clearly, it's time for another round of Smelly Train/Nice Bag.

In this post I wrote about this game.  Essentially, if you have a negative thought, you should counteract it with a positive one. So here goes:

My truck is leaking oil/Maybe after 15 years it's time for a new one!

I want this one!
I really don't feel like lifting weights, ever/But I feel great when I'm done!

It's raining a lot/I don't have to water my trees yet.

This training class is too long/I get to spend time with some friends after class.

Sometimes it seems like nobody reads my blog/My aunt and my mom like it!

Work can be challenging/I get to fly around in helicopters all the time.

I feel old/Another year closer to retirement!

A selfie, because why not.

Let's play! Tell me your Smelly Train/Nice Bag thoughts!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

the power of gratitude

Most of the time people really don't like us.  They don't like us because we work for the government, and they mistakenly think we have some influence on government policy, and also because they think, mistakenly again, that we are overpaid and have a lot of benefits like some government workers.  They don't like us because we create smoke doing prescribed burns.  They don't like us when we don't do prescribed burns and the forest becomes choked with underbrush.  They don't like us when we run saws all day near their houses creating a fuel break, and they don't like us when we don't create fuel breaks.  They especially don't like us when we can't save their wooden house nestled in the forest with no defensible space.

We're used to it.  We do our jobs anyway, and save what we can when a fire roars into your community.  But sometimes something happens that restores my faith in people.  On a fire in South Dakota, where the catered food at camp was so terrible that the crew I was supervising chose to take Meals Ready to Eat for lunch instead,  local people showed up with cookies and bagels and snacks, filling up two long tables with food.  On another fire, a man on an ATV brought some of us bottled water as we toiled over hot spots.  Last summer, a woman started yelling at me from the other side of the airport fence.  Slightly alarmed, I walked over, to see she was brandishing a pan of zucchini bars, insisting I take them.

And who doesn't like signs made by little kids:

We don't expect people to say thank you.  After all, it's our job, and it's a traumatic time for them.  But when they do, it's a powerful thing.   So thanks to you, people with food and homemade brownies and nice children.  You might have forgotten already, but we remember you.