8.07.2008

wildfire - days three through six

Day Three

I went to the same spot today with another medic. Rick, the division supervisor, took me around the division with him for a few hours in the morning. I saw a little more flame, and he explained what I was seeing - from how well things were burning and why based on terrain and vegetation to areas of major concern they were aggressively protecting. There was a huge area a quarter mile from where things were currently smoldering where the timber had been harvested. There was tons of down, dry trees and brush that had been left behind by the loggers, all of it on a hot, south-facing slope. It was a tinderbox waiting for a spark, and there were no natural barriers for miles beyond the slash.

It was good to see all of the things I'd learned about in my Red Card class last may coming together, from where the fire was burning, how weather and humidity affect the burn activity and how different equipment is used to fight the fire, either by attacking it directly or moving ahead of it and cutting breaks in the fuel.

I am not a big fan of the medic I was paired with for the day, but the Medical Unit Leader has promised to pair me up with a different (and equally partner-dissatisfied medic) tomorrow. For today I am paired with a career city firefighter who has the emotional maturity of a thirteen year-old. He complains about everything from the vehicles we have to the hours we are working to the food to the management team assigned to this incident. Although I agree with him on the last point (those I have encountered, with the exception of the division supervisor we're with today, tend to lead by force, pushing and shoving rather than leading by example from ahead) but still, it is difficult to listen to him whine and complain for thirteen hours. It is one thing to not get along with a coworker you share and office with, another to not get along with a coworker you are expected to sit in a car with. All. Day. Long. Thankfully, he snored in the driver's seat for 90% of the day, leaving me free to read and think and incrementally turn down the nauseating pop station he left on full blast before he nodded off.

I also had my first on-the-line patient today. Two loggers (they are called Fallers, and work independently, as opposed to Sawyers who are part of a 20-man line-crew) came by our rig, one with a burnt foot (he had stepped in an ash-pit and the heat had seared through is boot, blistering the arch) and one with blood all over the side of his face. The other medic took the blistered faller, and I started over to take care of the bloody-headed one. I realized he wasn't badly hurt when I was waved away as he gave a big, loud piece of his mind to the faller-boss which I thought for a minute might end in blows. When it didn't, I got him away and started cleaning all the blood away.

Elder Faller was a rough-looking man, towering over me with with his thick logger's broad shoulders and massive arms. I had to get him to lean down quite a bit to work on his face without reaching. His bloody, grizzled head was still glaring around with leftover rage at whatever the conflict with the faller-boss had been about. When I saw the boss had dodged safely out of sight, I teased him a little about his mortal head wound and my attempts to make him yelp - or at least flinch- while searching through the blood for its source. Eventually I found it: a tiny superficial scrape less than two inches long. There was no good way to bandage it so I had him hold some 2x2s on it for a few minutes to stop the blood seep, then slathered it with tribiotic and called it good. I kept on goading and teasing him through the ordeal - he was obviously mortified to be treated by a medic for such a tiny scrape - and by the time he headed back to his chainsaws and axes he was chuckling and relaxed. I hop the faller-boss stayed away for awhile.

Day Four

I was on the line with a girl-medic today. What a relief. We stopped for Mochas on the way out to the line, and talked about EMS, kayaking and backpacking on the way out to the line. She is my age, but married early and has four kids whose initials and birth dates are tattooed on her arm (her "four consecutive life-sentences.") Her ex-husband has custody of the kids in the summer, allowing her to work wildfire season and bank up on the cash. We parked in a dust-bowl on a new (for me) division of the fire to the north-east. An army truck with a load of electronic equipment parked just down the hill from us, and we were told they were flying a reconnaissance plane overhead doing detailed heat-imaging of the fire and relaying it in real-time to the truck. It is some kind of prototype program (at least we were told) and they were fine-tuning it on our incident.

Girl-Medic had a US Weekly and a Cosmo, which I read out of desparation - you can only read Dune sequels for so long before your brain needs a break. I was reminded many times over why I never pick those things up. I need to remember to bring more and varied reading material on my next fire. A couple of Dune books does not cut it. I started hand-writing letters, though, something I love to do but hardly ever have the patience for.

One thing is for sure - it is a lot easier to find a spot to pee in the woods when you're posted with a girl.

Days Five & Six

I was stuck in camp at the aid station with the Medical Unit leader for two days. There are only a couple of EMTs she can stand to have hanging around in the unit all day, and apparently I am on of the 'lucky' few. Although it was nice to get a shower and run into town to get stamps at the post office, I'd rather be on the line.

Both mornings, my Faller Boys came in to have burns and various other flesh wounds dressed along with the usual crowd looking for congestion relief and moleskin for blisters. Once the crews left for the fire, things were quiet. The hardest thing was sitting in those metal chairs and trying to stay awake. We had someone come in from the fire with reduced lung sounds who ended up going to the clinic in town, but that was the only real patient in two days. There was a trickle of camp-based CCC kids who came in for band-aids or to have turned ankles iced and wrapped ... or to get a minute of rest from cleaning up after eight hundred odd firefighters. They were usually quickly found and chased out again by their supervisors.

For the most part, these last two days have been slow and frustrating. I don't like sitting in here with the management, having hollow conversations while trying to ignore the constant bad-mouthing and bitching. I'd take being posted on the fireline with a shitty partner who snores to bad music for thirteen straight hours that sit under these fluorescent lights being polite, even if it means losing a hot shower during my lunch break.


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(in real time)
I am at the fire station tonight, eating my shift-captain's frozen blueberries while I blog. I've spent most of the evening trying to make sense of the Paramedic Academy schedule that came with my acceptance letter and prepare myself for the insanity that will start Monday at 0800.

I responded from home to a tone-out for an MVA this morning just up the street from our cabin. I found the crumpled car but no patient or bystanders and drove around for fifteen minutes trying to figure it out when the ambulance passed me and pulled into a driveway a quarter mile down the road. Apparently the patient had walked home and then called 911 from there. Some days, I wish somebody would issue me a radio.

Our garden is giving her first harvest despite the cold, overcast weather that has plagued us all summer. We have had a salad and a tiny northern zucchini, and Peter made pumpkin-seed pesto with his basil crop. I saw my first sugar-snap pea yesterday, stil flat but long and bulging with pods. Some garden pictures are posted on Solar Aperture, and more (as well as more in-context fire pictures) will be forthcoming when I'm not blogging from the station.

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1 comment:

kara said...

so, if any fires erupt here in MT, and you get sent here, let me know, ok? i'm glad you're safe and sound... and mostly, i'm glad as it seems you are really enjoying what you're doing right now. also, i think we need to catch up at some point.