Monday, August 31, 2015

A day in the life

We've been busy here for so long that I can barely remember what it used to be like before all this started about two months ago.  Every day brings new fires.  The minions stare blankly into space, perhaps dreaming of ski season.  There is nothing in my refrigerator except an ancient bottle of apple cider vinegar and some beer that has resided there for months.  I realize one employee is coming back from a 2 week assignment and it feels like he just left. 

This is what life is like lately:

5 am.  Wake up.  Think, a few more minutes.  Wake up again and see it is 6:15.  Oops! Leap up and run through the morning routine; I have it down to less than 10 minutes.  Drive 30 minutes to work.

7 am.  Greet the minions, and watch wistfully as they head off to exercise.  It's been awhile since I've had time to do more than ride my bike in circles around the helibase.  Get on a daily conference call.  Try to explain how helicopter flight hours are calculated in a 6 day period. Give up, and just say they have plenty of hours to fly.

8 am.  Greet the pilots and mechanics as they filter in and begin preflight.  Say hi to the visiting helitack crew, who might as well work here since they've been here so long.  Do a bunch of paperwork I was too tired to do the night before.

8:30 am. Helibase briefing.  Read the weather and take bets on whether what is predicted will really happen.  Don't read the daily situation report; nobody cares about fires in other places because we are here, and will be here till it snows.  Brief the pilots on their missions for the day, if there are any.  If there aren't any, there will be soon.

9 am-9:30 pm.  Wait for fires. If on the helicopter, scribble down the coordinates, grab the iPad with maps on it, corral the minions, and jump in. Navigate to the fire and size it up; unload the minions and their gear.  Either briefly envy them for a good deal fire with a beautiful view, or look in terror at the brushy, steep hike they are facing and feel secretly glad that I put in years and years of this and don't have to necessarily do it anymore. Wrestle the heavy bucket out of the helicopter and attach it so they can have water. Hope they don't need cargo.  They need cargo, so round it all up, attach the hook, and send it in to them.  Grab more minions and head to the next fire.

If running the helibase, answer the phone to find an aviation dispatcher spouting coordinates to a fire.  Assign a helicopter, and walk out to tell them, acquiring a little bit of exercise.  Assign more helicopters to other fires, and hope that they will need to send their chase and fuel trucks, so everyone will be gone and I can get some regular work stuff done.  Think longingly about a nap. Eat candy and feel bad about self.  Hear a helicopter approaching and sprint to the pad to be a parking tender.  Wait for sunset when everyone will return.

Go home, think about doing laundry and don't.  Look at the TV which I haven't turned on for over two weeks. Read a few pages of a book and fall asleep.  Wake up and do it all over again.

There's an end in sight (sort of).  The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Some of the fires will burn till it snows, but that's not a long way off, at least in the high country.  This fire season is bound to end soon. Then it will be one we talk about for years, after we've had some sleep and all the reports are done and statistics compiled.  Winter always comes; the bears in the high country know it.  So do we.


  1. Once again, thank you for your work and dedication, and for helping us civilians get a basic understanding of what's involved in fire-fighting. I hope the rains come, and the fires die down, and you get some R&R soon. Love, Ant

  2. head is swimming just reading about all the many moving, minions, pilots, cargo, hotshot crews, reports....etc etc etc. Amazing work that you and your front line colleagues do each and every day during fire season.


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