I've learned a lot over my years of fighting wildland fires. I know about weather patterns, and how terrain can influence how fire spreads across the landscape. I understand helicopter flight manuals, and can sharpen a Pulaski so it will cut with precision. Those are all important things, but this career has also given me other, unexpected abilities.
Most morning briefings at fire camp start around 5:30 a.m. The hotshot crew I was once on was expected to break camp and be ready to go at this time. Those who unfortunately slept in had pine cones thrown at them by the superintendent accompanied by some yelling. In those days everyone slept in the open under the same yellow tarp. Early morning rustling with plastic bags and unzipping of sleeping bags earned you the ire of others. Thus, you had to be really quick if you wanted to be dressed, have contacts in, and have already visited the bathroom before you were supposed to be in line for breakfast. To this day I can get ready very fast.
A related skill I have is being able to wake up without an alarm. I never set one, unless I have an early morning flight, and even then I wake up and turn it off before it rings. All those years of crew bosses looming over us in the darkness about to yell, "Get up!" must have paid off.
As a firefighter, you learn to sleep like a cat. You can pretty much sleep anywhere, including on crew buggies, rocks, and next to a fireline. I'm good at sleeping on planes, trains, and buses. The downside is that I wake up easily, something you must be able to do as a firefighter, in case the helicopter shows up, the fire comes to life, or a safety officer comes down the trail.
I've traveled with people who have to have coffee first thing, or who need to stop at prescribed times to eat. You can't do this on fires. I've gone without food, eaten dinner from gas stations, and gotten creative with MRE condiments. As a result, I'm ok with throwing a couple of energy bars in my pack when I hike, or having snacks for dinner when I travel. Eating on the run (or on the helispot) has made me a lot more food-flexible.
I'm used to being dirty, tired, too hot, too cold, and surrounded by bugs. I'm used to carrying heavy stuff and wearing uncomfortable clothes. So now when I'm on the trail, these things rarely bother me. No bathroom? Sloping campsite? Drenching rain? I've encountered it so much on the job, I'm used to it.
When I'm done fighting fire, and I no longer commute in helicopters, it won't matter whether I remember the right mix for the drip torch, or how to complete a helicopter load calculation. But my time as a firefighter has shaped my life in so many ways, some of which I'm still learning. It will always be a part of me.