Sunday, February 25, 2018

What happens in...

"I haven't been outside in three days!" I exclaimed in disbelief.  I tried to remember the last time this had happened.  I came up with...never?

I wasn't in prison or a biosphere experiment.  I was only in Las Vegas, helping to teach a class. It was the first time I'd been there just for work.  Since I had to spend hours in the classroom, I felt like an observer of the local wildlife, instead of a participant.

Going to the hotel gym at 6 am, I saw people grimly sitting in front of slot machines, where they had possibly spent the night.  Inside, it was impossible to tell what time of day it was.  The lights stayed bright all night long.  You could find any kind of food you wanted. There was a full size movie theater.  It was like a strange, artificial world.  Only without any kind of weather in it.
The instructor gave homework: practice some communication styles.  A student tried this, generously offering to buy a well-dressed woman a drink.  He then learned that by doing this he had unknowing engaged the lady's $1000 a night services.  Luckily, she realized his country boy status and let him in on the code, allowing him to flee with his honor, and wallet, intact.

A woman in the class announced that she had won a lot of money the night before.  "Enough to buy the whole class lunch?" the teacher asked.  She looked around the room at the 40 students.  "Actually, yes," she said.  Given that the cost of food was wildly inflated in the casino, we were impressed.  However, she elected to hold on to her winnings.

I ventured out only to find that Vegas was having an unseasonable cold snap.  There was only one thing to do: go to a show called Inferno, with a magician and lots of fire.

The class was a success, but I needed to get outside.  I hurried into my local woods at home.  The snow was deep.  The local dog walkers had apparently fallen down on their job of packing down the trails.  It was cold and windy, but it felt good to be away from the fluorescent lights and lingering cigarette smoke.  It's always good to visit other places; I think it keeps you open minded.  But then it's good to get back to who you really are.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Horror!

There are a lot of things that can be scary about this job.  There is fire itself, obviously; pilot error, mechanical failure, and unwise management decisions, to list a few.  But there is one aspect that can strike terror into even a veteran supervisor's heart.  It can be so awful to contemplate that you'd almost rather run into the Blair Witch (well, almost).  That's's HIRING.

A necessary evil, hiring is something that must be faced every year.  If a permanent employee hasn't fled to another job and opened up a spot, there's always seasonal vacancies.  Easy, right? After all, they only work about 6 months a year, and there are often over 150 names on the referral list.  How hard can it be?

"Please don't offer a job to that guy," J. begged.  We had the same person on our lists, and he was showing interest in both places. "Nobody else wants to come here," he added sadly.  Foiled again, I returned to my list.  It had looked so promising when it arrived, but out of the mass quantities of applicants, most had applied to as many locations as possible, and had already accepted jobs, or remained elusive, not answering phone calls, playing the offers as long as possible.

A supervisor of a hand crew sympathized.  OK, I might have whined.  "You can hire someone off my list," she offered.  It was a long shot, but I ambushed C. when he may have been in a moment of weakness, also known as college exam time.  Even though it wasn't the kind of crew he had anticipated working on, he gamely accepted, and he must have liked it, because he says he's coming back for another summer.

Even if you fill your roster, it's nerve wracking not to know anything about these people.  My crew is small, so if the dreaded Bad Apple makes an appearance, it can affect the whole season.  In my career there have been a few:  the Inappropriate Remarks Man, the Terminal Laziness Sufferer, and the Just Plain Odd (later charged with a horrible crime).

Probably the worst is the Bait and Switch.  This person starts off great.  They are the bomb!  But soon their real self comes out in all their policy-breaking, strange-behaving glory.  How could you have been so wrong about them?

As I write this, all the fire supervisors in this region are awaiting their seasonal lists, which will all come out on the same day.  We are poised to attack, keyboards at the ready, to snag the best applicants.  Wish us luck.  We are going in!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Winter + Me: It's Complicated

Dear Winter,

I grew up with you.  I know you pretty well, after dealing with your subzero temperatures and lake effect snow throughout my formative years.   I got used to jumping into the snowbanks when I walked to the school bus stop in the dark, not wanting to be hit by the terrifying city plows.  I put up with never having my cute Halloween costume show because of the heavy coat covering it.  I was even resigned to you sticking around till May some years.

When I got old enough, though, I tried to quit you.  I took jobs in Southern California, Arizona, and even Hawaii.  I bought flip flops.  I went hiking in January.  I didn't miss you at all, I told myself.

But for some reason I kept all my mittens and hats and down jackets.  And somehow you snuck back in.  I kept migrating back north, even living in Interior Alaska for five years for some reason, in  a place where tires got square and you kept your car running while you filled it with gas.  What was I thinking? 

Now I live in a mountain town where you show up reliably every November or so, if not earlier.  You must like it here, because you are usually reluctant to leave.  I've gotten used to you, though.  Sure, I wish you would lighten up a bit at times.  You don't need to be cold and gloomy for weeks on end.  You could depart for the polar regions a little sooner.  But I guess after all this time, there are days I kind of like you.

Yesterday I got to make first tracks on a frozen lake.  Your PR person (the weatherman) said it was supposed to be cloudy and blustery, but instead the sun was out and the snow was full of sparkles.  Sometimes I think you do this on purpose: throw in these exquisite days to surprise us, so we stay.

Anyway, I'm not about to break up with Summer; it's still my favorite.  But you can be okay sometimes.  Sorry for the bad stuff I said about you when you brought the freezing rain over.  Let's stay friends.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Fire Fit

"I ran a marathon the other day," Justin said as he came into the office.  "Well, it wasn't a race," he corrected himself.  "I ran 26 miles, to see if I could."

Noticing he had our attention, he continued.  "I ran slow," he said, "four hours and ten minutes, but I wasn't trying to go fast."

I tried not to regard him as if he was from another planet.  For one, I didn't think that was very slow, considering a. it was winter, with slippery roads and snow, and b. he wasn't in a race.  Also, who does that? Well, I guess a lot of people do, but those people aren't me.

Since wildland firefighters are so organized in the summer, with group workouts and physical tests to pass, you'd think that everyone's off season training would be similar, but it really isn't.  There are a few online workouts that purport to be designed for our profession, but most people do their own thing, especially if it worked in the past.

At the gym, I often see B., one of the hotshots.  He lifts heavy and is deep into the keto lifestyle.  M., one of my crewmembers, belongs to an aerial studio and looks lean and flexible as she maneuvers through suspended hoops and bands.  T., who had an unfortunate sprained ankle last season, is undoubtedly hitting the weights and the jump rope again in between family farm work.

Some firefighters keep up the same routine all year round, just stepping it up more in the colder months when they have more time.  Others mostly downhill ski and hope for the best.  Some pretty much quit working out completely, only starting up a couple weeks before they show up, finding their abandoned running shoes and hitting the road.  This only works well if you are, say, 21.  The older you get, the more painful and ineffective this route can be, leaving you dragging behind the rest of the crew all summer, a liability.

Those of us who have been around awhile know what to do.  You need to run some.  You should hike too, carrying some weight on your back.  You need strength and endurance to take you through long days and nights.  But you also need the mental break from it, too; days when it's ok to just take a walk in the snowy woods, maybe do some yoga.  It'll be fire season soon enough.