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.
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|
*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.