Never once—in all of those days—did I think that this isn’t the job for me.
It is truly a position of love and if you do not love the exciting with the dull, you’ll never stick with wildland firefighting. I’ve embraced the suck because I relish the variety.
One of my friends once said that being on a crew is like riding a rocket with no way to steer, and in no way was he wrong. I accept the assignments that are handed down from my immediate overhead because those are the people that I trust with my life every single day. Within those tasks, they trust me to not be a drone, but to do what I see is right under their intent. With eight bosses seeing things a little differently, that decision space has led to some chewing out sessions…but I’ve learned so much over the years. The only way to learn in fire is to experience it all.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to seasonal firefighting existence. Injuries are the end of the world, especially if you must miss a roll or a season. Since I’m still a seasonal instead of a permanent employee, I don’t have health insurance half the year, making injuries in the off-season just as scary as those obtained on the line. Relationships can feel impossible; I once had someone break it off with me when I told them that I pretty much disappear all summer. These are just a couple of the personal challenges I—and many other seasonal wildland firefighters—face. I want to make this job work for me in the long run, so I’ve gone back to school in the off-season. Hopefully, by finishing a bachelor’s degree, I’ll be more qualified for higher positions that will afford more flexibility for life outside of wildland fire.
Those that love being a hotshot know that the job becomes your life; the summer is absorbed by the job, the winter you try to unwind and still train your butt off.