March 06, 2010

A Nature Walk on Mars

"Ready for a nature walk?" asked T__, the assistant fire chief, after we had donned our self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and walked out of the Big Sister Department's building.

"On Mars," I answered. That's what it felt like, all bundled up with the sounds of inhalation and exhalation all Darth Vaderish inside my facepiece—like I was exploring an alien planet.

We walked around the building, down the alley, up along the irrigation ditch, back around to the front. Slowly, watching our breathing. "Yogic fire breathing" suggests something else, but in sense, that's what it was. We're not trying to raise kundalini, just trying to make the air in the tank last.

Right: Firefighters prepare to practice putting on breathing apparatus in less than one minute. I can't do it yet--hoses and straps get tangled ...

I grew up around wildland firefighting. I have done a little. I have my federal "red card" certification.

Now some of us in our little rural department are going through Firefighter I state-certification training.  It's the real deal. Today, for the first time, I wore SCBA (borrowed). I climbed ladders in bunker gear and practiced hauling stuff up to rooftops, such as pike poles, chainsaws, and other ladders. More weeks of training lie ahead.

Luckily, the same knots I learned as a Boy Scout are pretty much the same knots used here, and they are still in my muscle memory.

Here is the irony:  I joined the local volunteer department 14 months ago after the county Search and Rescue (SAR) outfit told me that my services were not needed. That seemed an odd way to run a volunteer operation—there is always turnover. People move away or whatever. You need new blood all the time.

Now the local weekly runs an article on how SAR is looking for volunteers. Well, too late. I am committed to the fire service.

I think the fire departments are a little more blue-collar than our county's SAR. They are the people with mountain bikes and backgrounds in rock climbing and backpacking. You see more pickup trucks with lift kits at the fire department, meet more former military NCOs. But that's only a rough comparison—I would not push it too far.

I'm going up the ladder, and I'm thinking, "Two years ago I would have been grading essays on a Saturday in March."

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