Friday, July 8, 2016

How Working In Wildland Fire Can Change Your Life For The Better

Wildland fire
It becomes a home and family for so many, and that isn't something that you can find in every career.

I’ll be the first to say that wildland fire was never something that I was interested in. For the first 17 years of my life I didn’t even know that there was a difference between firefighters who protected our homes and firefighters who protected our land. Fortunately for me, the summer after my freshman year of college, I found myself working as a dispatcher for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in a center that focuses strictly on wildland fire and their personnel. And much to my surprise, this was one of the best decisions and opportunities that I could have ever received.

Working as a dispatcher, I don’t interact directly with the fires, which is fine by me because honestly I’m a little afraid of them. However, over the past three years I have been fortunate enough to interact directly with many of the firefighters, overhead, and personnel who face that fear all summer long and fight wildland fires to keep us well as those who offer support for the firefighters out in the field, so that we can protect them too. All of these people are different—they walk different styles of life and provide vastly different perspectives not only on fire, but on the ways of the world. However, there is one thing that every person I have ever met within the fire community has in common; an unwavering respect and support for themselves, those around them, and the land that they are working so hard to protect. These people love what they do, they love who they work with, and they have a unique passion for adventure and risking their lives to help keep our land beautiful and safe. These are some of the hardest workers I have ever known and some of the funniest and most honest influences that I didn’t know I needed in my life. Over the past three summers that I have returned to my hometown to work in our dispatch center, they have become my family.

Aside from gaining this family, I have gained knowledge about many aspects of the world that I would have never given a second thought. I have seen the ins and outs of working with the federal government, and I have a new respect for the many processes and people that are put into place in order to protect the land that we live on. I have been pushed out of comfort zone and have been challenged to keep learning and go as far as I can in my knowledge about this job. I have worked with people who believe in me, teach me, still like me even when I mess things up(which is quite often much to my dismay), and give me something to look forward to when I go home for the summer. I have learned far more than I ever would have about weather conditions, the lay of the land, the importance of fully putting out a campfire, and the significance of a lat/long from the point of origin on a fire. While providing entertainment to those around me, I also I learned that I am awful at sharpening tools, it is not smart to wear ankle socks when you will also be wearing hiking boots and digging fire line, copy machines never work the way that you want them too, and it is near impossible to read the weather over the radio when the Barney song starts playing on your coworker's computer.
Kelsey Kimber (left)
Kelsey Kimber (left) in the field.
Needless to say, this job has been an opportunity that I am so thankful for. I’ve learned a ton, met some of the best people that I will ever know, and have been able to put my earnings towards my college degree, which is something that I will be eternally grateful for. And while this article only states my personal opinion, I know that many of the things that I have said here would resonate with the firefighters, overhead, and fellow dispatchers alike who have made this a career. There are so many fire personnel that I have met in the past three years, who ended up making fire their lifelong path, when like me, they had only planned on working in fire as their summer job. I truly believe that this is because the people you meet and the experiences that you get during your years as firefighter (or in my case, a dispatcher) make it a hard place to leave. It becomes a home and family for so many, and that isn't something that can you find in every career.

Kelsey Kimber is a dispatcher at the Elko Interagency Dispatch Center. We acknowledge Kelsey for putting herself "out there" as a means to make a difference following a statewide preparedness review. All expressions are those of the author.

Special shout out to Mike Ellsworth for his inspiration and sharing of this resource.

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