BY DENA ALI
EFFECTIVE FIREFIGHTING IS challenging and requires ex- cellence in fitness, quick deci-sion-making skills, and a willingness to
sacrifice one’s self for service to others.
We are trained to risk a lot to save a lot.
Our rewards, as structural firefighters, are
many: fellowship, incredible home-cooked
meals, downtime, days off, and more. In
the eyes of our customers, we are running
into burning buildings or rescuing people
from car crashes and disasters. We’re
superheroes to children and homeland
defenders to adults.
As a structural firefighter, I often feel
uncomfortable when approached and
thanked for my service or given accolades for the risk my profession requires,
primarily because I absolutely love the
work I do and feel fortunate to have the
ability to serve others. Additionally, while
our profession is risky, the risks we take
are calculated. No matter how difficult my
24-hour shift is, I know that I will be able
to go home in the morning to recover. On
the fireground, I’m reassured that I can
work only as long as my self-contained
breathing apparatus will allow, and
there’s a rapid intervention team (RI T)
ready to rescue me if needed.
Not all firefighters enjoy these luxuries.
During the wildfire season, wildland firefighters often work 16-hour days protecting communities while wearing heavy,
heat-resistant boots and long-sleeve,
heat-resistant shirts; carrying approximately 45 pounds of gear; and working in
the most extreme weather conditions. Yet
wildland firefighters are rarely recognized
in the same light as structural firefighters.
Although career wildland firefighters
comprise less than 10 percent of the
nation’s firefighters, their demands during
the wildfire season far exceed the call
volume of most urban firefighters.
Above and Beyond
The 2017 wildfire season was atypically demanding on crews. According to
Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today, preliminary data on the 2017 wildfire season
indicate that wildfires burned about
9,781,062 acres, or 49 percent more than
the 10-year average preceding the year.
Ironically, the data also show a four-per-
Photo by Keith Cullom.