September 12, 2001

In 2001 it was the day after our perspectives changed forever. It was the day many of us woke up shaking our heads and wondering if the day before was simply a nightmare. Realizing it was more than simply sleep- the day before was beyond our nightmares come true for many people. For me it was the day I reported to my first wildland fire working for an incident management team.

The day before was centered around a desire to help and a feeling of helpless.  We ran through our Rolodex lists (we still had those paper things back then) calling to check in on our family and friends. I was relieved to be deemed “non-essential” the day before preferring to be helpless at home instead of work. I floated around staging and wondering what next until I got the call from dispatch.

The twelfth I drove up in elevation my newspaper staring at me sitting on the front seat of my federal rig. When I got to the fire it was the first thing everyone asked for. I had been working towards this moment for years learning the system, getting qualified, and studying up but I never imagined this assignment. The fire had started August 25th and as it slowed down and was downgraded to Type 2 fire. The fire was wrapping up and I was just headed out to help put the bow on documentation and make a few maps. I drove down the forest roads following the cardboard signs with thick black marker past the small little smokes by the side of the road with the occasional flame peeking out as I rolled past.

In a post 9/11/01 wildland fire world nothing was typical. So many dealt with so much- I was just another bureaucrat. Another public servant showing up for my job and trying to meet the need that I didn’t train for. Designing and plotting out american flags for the fire engines. All the stores in these forest towns had sold out and the engines and crews were far from home. As people were released I worked to help guide them home as travel regulations and restrictions changed on an hourly basis while people were trying to find their ways home after the fire. Planes were grounded, rental cars were only being released to dual passengers, and trains were crowded. We checked and cross checked and helped the staff find their way back to their home units.

On September 12, 2001 I fully joined the fire family at a time where we were just starting to comprehend the losses in the fire community. I did nothing heroic or notable in those days. But I made a difference to others in my fire family with little acts of kindness. We do our best to take care of each other while living the #govlife.


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