A few days ago, one of my friends pointed out that I am the only person she knows who can truthfully and literally reply, “oh, just putting out fires,” when asked what I’ve been up to. Somewhere in this blog, I know I’ve mentioned that when I’m busy (by my own choice or someone else’s) I tend to make less noise. In this particular case, yes, I’ve been busy putting out fires, but I signed up for it. I even got a free outfit that I got to wear for nearly 36 hours straight last weekend.
The spring ritual of pasture and field burning was unknown to me before moving to Kansas in the early 1990s. Since then it has become as much a part of my inner calendar as the spring floods down South. Both of these events are natural ones that have been adopted by people to accomplish the same goals but, ideally, under more controlled circumstances.
However… big breath before the comma…, sometimes things go wrong. Even the most carefully planned, controlled burn can run afoul of so many things such as a dry winter or a puff of breeze at the “wrong” time.
My previous home was within 30 feet of being burned to the ground. Osage County Fire District #4 (OCFD #4), and 1-3, 5, and 6 also, I believe, worked all day to preserve that little half-moon of land where my house sat. The fire still managed to jump that road and continue burning. All of this happened while I was at work 35 miles away. A neighbor- half a mile away- saw the fire and reported it. That evening, I turned down my low-maintenance road as usual, happy to be home. I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the drying of my mouth as my mind accepted what the rest of me already knew. I also remember knowing that that I could never repay what had been done for me, nor would I ever be asked to do so.
It did enter my mind to volunteer, but the usual excuses held me back.
Fast forward to 2012. I was at work and received a text with a picture.
The furnace had overheated and caused a small fire with a lot of smoke. A hot spot re-ignited and caused a larger fire. This story also ended well- thanks to OCFD #4. Again.
By then the idea had taken hold, and it only took me three years to make a move, but it feels right now. It’s right for be because this particular endeavor is outside my comfort zone. It is right because I will be following, listening, learning, and giving. My nearly constant barrage of questions hasn’t irritated anyone too much. Nor will it! OCFD #4 is a splendid example of the power of shared knowledge.
There are only 1000 people (give or take a few) within the greater metropolitan area of my small Kansas town. I live outside of town. According to more than one semi-reliable internet source, 71% of this country’s firefighters are volunteers who are getting less young, less active, and are not being replaced by a new generation of volunteers.
OCFD #4 is one such organization. We are one of seven districts in our county, and we have mutual aid agreements with one of our neighboring counties. That means that we respond to some of their calls, and they do the same for us. Our roster contains 33 names, many of whom serve alongside a family member. Some of our cadets serve with their parents!
One of the many jokes around the station has to do with the timing of my decision. I am told that my weekends will be extra-busy for at least the next month, and that I can also count on being summoned multiple times in a given day. I can honestly say that I did think of that. What I did not think of was how quickly I would be asked to put my limited introduction to use. When the first fire was out and we were back at the station, people wanted to know what I thought. All I could come up with was,”Well, I didn’t get yelled at or fall off of the truck.”
I’m pretty sure that everyone understood my need process the experience and let thoughts develop. Those of you who know my frequency know that sooner or later, I will broadcast. I may even warn you so you can turn the volume up or down! In the meantime, I hope that whenever you see scenes like these…
… as I was saying… whenever you see scenes like these, I hope that you and yours are all safely at home on your front porch!
There is one last anecdote that I am determined to put in this post, but that I can’t seem to blend in smoothly, so here it is:
After my introduction to fighting grass fires, all the grass trucks met at a local fuel station to refill in order to be ready for the next run(s). I was so thirsty that I couldn’t even spit- something I will do, but would prefer not to. There are worse things, right? Anyway, being without my purse or wallet, I was scrounging water and making mental notes to put a bottle of water in my pants pocket at the end of every run (that box is now checked!). By the way, I did have my chapstick, as did many of the other firefighters.
The people who worked in the store part of the fuel station gave a free drink to one of the other firefighters. I was hanging on the edge of a group conversation that revolved around teasing one of the store’s staff about not following through on joining OCFD #4. I even joined in a bit, using myself and my… lengthy consideration process as justification. Suddenly, but belatedly, I realized that the object of our teasing was hurt and irritated by our comments.
Better late than never is not always enough, but in this case, I believe it was. I apologized to the person on the receiving end of our jokes and asked about the free drink. If I understood correctly, somebody will pay for the drink! If I misunderstood, let the record show that yours truly will spring for the drink. Moving on… this person did what felt right! We began chatting about the different ways in which people do what they can with whatever they have. This person did a good thing and is convinced of that now. More importantly- that good thing was done without hesitation and even in the midst of being teased.
What feels right? Trust your instincts!
For an interesting discussion of the decline of American civic participation, check out Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam or the web site http://bowlingalone.com/