The Life of a Wildland Firefighter
The life of a wildland firefighter is very difficult. This past week, I was in training for fire. I took part in the annual fire refresher and pack test. Each year, wildland firefighters are required to take the annual fire refresher and pack test, due to new developments in the fire world and to ensure the ability to keep up with conditioning and stamina. The pack test is administered by higher level firefighters, usually engine captains and divisions. The pack test consists of a three-mile hike with a 45-pound weighted vest, and has to be completed in 45 minutes or less. This year’s refresher consisted of many new developments in firefighter safety and lessons learned from 2015 fire season. I believe that over the course of fifteen years, firefighter safety has become the focal point in the way we fight fires, which has proven to be effective given the decrease in fatalities associated with wildland fire. I have been a wildland firefighter for three seasons now, and have seen a huge shift in the way we perform our duties. Last year I was detailed out on a 21-man hand crew assigned to the North Fork Complex and the Hayfork Fire, both in California. Like most fires greater than 100 acres, on both the North Fork and Hayfork the fire behavior drastically shifted making it hard to fight. The main concept to keep in mind while firefighting is understanding small shifts in wind, temperature, and relative humidity. All three factors correspond to how the fire will behave based on those changes. Well, during the tour those three factors weren’t in our favor, causing flame lengths to be greater than 100 feet which made it really hard for firefighters to go in and control the fire. This year I am hoping to go out on another detail, but it is subject to change due to my schedule being so full.
Here are a few pictures that describe the challenges that we, as firefighters, face.
Photos taken by Stefan Armenta