11 December 2012

My Christmas Spirit

Today I am breaking the blog silence by praising Disneyland.  Surprised, many of you are, I know, but stay tuned for a few minutes here.  Rebecca and I took a quick trip last week to Walt’s wonderland, the happiest place on earth, Disneyland.  We did all the regular things, sans kiddos.  Something unique though: one of the nights we sat and watched Disneyland’s Candlelight Procession.  

The Candlelight Procession is nothing fancy for December:  large choirs singing Christmas carols, lots of people holding fake candles, and a celebrity reading a story.  The unique part for me, and the part that finally helped me to feel the Christmas spirit this year, was the fact that the story that was read, was none other than the Christmas Story from the bible.  Up to this point, I wasn’t feeling very “Christmasy.”  Despite the amazing decor all over Disneyland, and the huge tree on main street, my Christmasness just wasn’t materializing. 

Disney’s Candlelight processional was amazing, and not just because it was Edward James Olmos doing the reading, but because they blasted it as loud as could be.  They did not hide the fact that we celebrate Christmas because of the birth of the Savior.  The carols that were sung were all the classics from any hymnal: What Child Is This, O Little Town of Bethlehem' Angles We Have Heard on High, etc.  The bible story was right out of the Bible, granted not the King James version, probably the new Mickey Translation, but it was still the bible story.  

This experience impressed me because in a world that is trying its best to hide the Savior and teachings of the Savior from public view, Disneyland is belting it out as loud as can be every single night in December. Our world is focused on the commercialness of Christmas, yet Edward James Olmos Stood and Delivered the Bible Christmas story with pride and feeling.  And near the conclusion, all in attendance sang Silent Night.  Thank you once again, Disneyland.  To see one of the Candlelight Processionals, go here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LjKHVtBkL0

18 July 2012

On The Line

I have spent most of my summer to this point, out in the forest fighting wild land fires. Fighting wildfires is a big production. There are many aspects to fighting a wildfire. The casual observer may be quite surprised. The everyday structure firefighter may also be quite surprised. 

 I am often asked why I go to Southern Utah, Wyoming or Georgia when there are fires right here in the Salt Lake Valley. The best answer would be to compare the fire to a puzzle. Certain pieces are needed to fight each fire, and the piece that I fulfill may already be in place on a fire in the Salt Lake area, but not filled on another fire.
Photo by Valerie Blair

When fires start and teams are assembled to fight the fire, they simply start making requests for the resources they need. Whatever resources are available, based on what is needed, get called to the fire. As other fires start, other resources are assigned to handle them. So, Salt Lake resources could be on their way to a fire in Oregon when a fire in Salt Lake starts up. The Salt Lake area fire would then call in resources from other areas to effectively fight the fire. 

 One of the “pieces” I am called on to fill most often is that of Line Medic. The duties of a Line Medic on a wildfire are to be on the fire line with the hotshot crews, hand crews, engine companies, or whatever other resource may be fighting the fire; and be available and ready to provide any needed emergency medical care to the firefighters fighting the fire. Our packs are weighed down with all the advanced life support gear typical of any paramedic unit, complete with IV kits, needles, emergency medications, intubation equipment, AED’s, etc.

Add caption
A line medic also provides non-emergency and preventive care: blister treatments, muscle aches, minor cuts and scrapes, and illness prevention. We carry cough drops, blister bandages, second skin, and ice packs. The line medic hikes the line right with the crews, even jumping in to dig line or mop up as needed. On my last fire in Wyoming, I came across a 1/2 acre spot fire and extinguished it single handedly. Any number of things can and do happen. These firefighters are working so hard–sometimes moving as fast as they can to beat the fire to a location to save property, lives, and infrastructure–that they sometimes get injured. This is why line medics and EMT’s are there on the fire line. 

 Each fire is a unique experience. The entire purpose behind Unified Fire Authority (UFA) sending us out as single resource firefighters is for us to gain experience that will help us become better assets to our home department, especially in the urban interface fires that are becoming more common. The training obtained through real incidents is extremely valuable. On top of all that, it can be fun. Most structure firefighters would not consider a wild land incident fun. Wildfires entail long hours, hard work, and different tactics. Typically, structure firefighters are not adequately trained to fight wild land fires.

This is another reason UFA focuses on intense cross-training of all personnel. The urban-interface threat within UFA’s response areas is huge, and growing each year as more houses are built higher on the mountain benches. Many of UFA’s firefighters participate in the single resource program in various roles. Most are line medics, some are Engine Bosses, Task Force Leaders, Division Supervisors, Medic Unit Leaders, and so on. UFA also has a seasonal Type 2 Initial Attack hand crew that keep very busy throughout the season. 

 Water can be a scarce resource in fighting wildfires. Firefighters will typically clear all vegetation from the fires path to extinguish a fire. Helicopters and airplanes assist the firefighters with water drops and retardant drops to slow fire spread, but ultimately the firefighters on the ground have to get in there and remove the fuel from the path of the fire. Everyone has heard the term: “Fight fire with fire!” Wildland firefighter literally use fire to fight the fire. Burning the fuel in a controlled fashion ahead of the fire front is becoming a common and often used technique. It is very effective in stopping fire spread. 

 I have been lucky to have some fun and challenging assignments over the years. On a fire in early June of this year, I was flown into the fire by helicopter and left out in “Spike Camp” for six or seven days. Spike camp is when fire crews set up camp very near to the fire line. It reduces the amount of time needed for fire crews to travel to and from the fire, allowing them to spend more time in actual firefighting tactics. Many times, it is also a much safer option, since traveling to and from fires is one of the number one “killers” of firefighters nationwide. As the line medic on this fire, I stayed in the spike camp and provided whatever medical needs arose from the crews. I hiked to the line with them each day, and made sure their medical needs were handled. Luckily, no major medical needs arose. This particular spike camp also happened to be near a beautiful high mountain lake. The scenery was breathtaking. It was a shame that a fishing pole was not a part of our gear. On an assignment last year in Florida the number one hazard was not fire, but alligators. Some assignments take firefighters to areas with biting flies, poison snakes, steep terrain, hot and humid climates, and so on. I have seen pine trees literally explode from the flame front and heat. 

Photo by Valerie Blair
 These single resource assignments also give me a humbling respect for fire. It can be so destructive. I have driven through mountain neighborhoods that had nothing but ash piles where homes once stood. Large expanses of green pines and forest have been reduced to blackened hillsides. Livestock, wildlife, and even people have been caught by advancing fire fronts. These types of experiences provide more direct motivation to gain the experience and training needed to do my part to help mitigate these incidents in future events. As UFA firefighters continue to gain experience in other parts of the country, we will be better prepared to handle the increasing number of fires that are occurring locally. In the meantime, grab your pulaski and meet me on the line. 

*The first photo and last photo were taken by my friend Valerie Blair, a fellow line EMT from the Fontenelle Fire in Big Piney Wyoming.

20 June 2012

Here It is a Groove Slightly Transformed...

Did you see that?  You didn’t?  That was June zipping by. 
As school closed its doors for the summer long recess, we headed west for an orthodontic appointment.  Rebecca has a special set of teeth, and there is only one orthodontist in the entire nation that can treat her, and his office is in the Bay Area.  So we did what any family would do, made a vacation out of it.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, the worst 8 hour stretch of road ever is Salt Lake to Reno.  It’s times like these that light speed would come in handy.  
We had a blast in the bay area, Lafayette, CA to be specific.  We spent time with Rebecca’s sister, Kristin, and her husband Dave, the orthodontist mentioned above.  The kids got a kick out of Dave’s energetic advertising of the new trail cam’s he had purchased.  They have not stopped chanting “Trail Cam dot com” since we’ve been home...thanks Uncle Dave, really.  They are also anxiously waiting for additional pictures.  While there, we were successful one night with this nighttime marauder.
We also spent a day in San Francisco.  I talked everyone into joining me at a baseball game.  The Giants took on the Cubs.  AT&T park is a great place to catch a game.  I want to be there in person when someone hits a homer into the bay behind right field!  

We saw the sea lions at pier 39.  I could watch those things for hours and not get bored.  They grunt and roar and push each other off the piers and it really is just something you have to see.  We rode the streetcars, ate some seafood, and escaped from Alcatraz! (By not going.) 
We finished with a day trip to the Redwoods.  We spent the afternoon hiking around the huge trees and had a nice lunch in the Big Basin State Park.  It was a fun, quick getaway, even though the drive from Reno to Salt Lake is the second worst drive in the world.  (See above for the first worst.)  The kids had fun, and its always good to spend time with family.  Rebecca’s braces are progressing nicely, and the doc scoped out Tierra to begin a plan for her mouth.  We may have quite a few trips to the orthodontist in our future.  Perhaps I should get my pilot's license?
While driving home, I was called to go to a fire in southern Utah, so we got home about 8 pm, and I was out the next morning early to head to Bicknell, Utah.  A huge forest fire was burning in the mountains above Bicknell and Teasdale.  If you have never heard of these places, don’t feel bad.  I hadn’t either. They kept me for a week, camping in the back country at night near the fire line, fighting fires by day.  (Detailed post about fire coming soon to the other blog)  I hiked some pretty country, and had another awesome wild fire experience.  I sometimes can’t believe they pay me for that.  True, its very hard work: 16 hour days, fighting fire without water-or at least very little water, and carrying all your gear on your back.  Hanging out in the back country with Yogi and Boo-boo, avoiding mosquitos, ticks, bees, and other creepy-crawlers.  All the while fighting raging forest fires.  I don’t understand why everyone doesn't want this job!!!
While I am gone, Rebecca and the kids go about their summer, playing with friends and basking in the sun.  Hope you are all having as much fun as us!