Images of a Journey

This past Spike (round of projects with AmeriCorps NCCC) has been an adventure, struggle and journey that has led me across states, teams and projects.  The journey started before this round even began, back in November when I found out I was an Alternate for the Fire Management Team. 

I started the round heading down to Colorado Springs to train alongside of Fire 2 and the El Paso County Wildland Crew.  After the week and a half of training and becoming a Type II Wildland Fire Fighter, I rejoined my own team (Sun 7) out in Tulsa, OK and worked along side the Community Action Project of Tulsa doing tax preparation.  After a short two weeks working with those that I had come to know and love, I was abruptly called up as an Alternate onto the Fire Management Team.  For the past four weeks, I have been up in Crown King, AZ working with the Fire Department doing fuels reduction and fire mitigation work. 

The following collection of images are views into this journey and my story here with AmeriCorps NCCC. 

While training with Fire 2, we had the opportunity to have hands on experience under the watchful eyes of the local volunteers.  They not only helped to train us in the classroom, but showed us what it ment to be part of a team and a crew on the fire line.  They worked alongside us, encouraging and pushing us to do our best in everything we did. 

Above, Niles, a member of the Jackson Hotshots (based out of Mississippi) takes the time and effort to instruct us in the proper maintenance of our wildland tools.  He demonstrated the proper techniques of sharpening the edges of the Pulaski, Shovel, Combi Tool (see image below), Rhyno (a modified shovel), McLeod, and various other tools used on the fire line. 

 Above is one of my favorite tools for the fire line, the Combi (Combination Tool).  Built and designed like a military folding shovel, these light tools fold out into a shovel and pick, allowing the firefighter more versatility in a single hand tool.  Mainly used to scrape down to bare mineral soil in the construction of a fire line, they are also useful in scraping between rocks, getting under roots and chopping away at stubborn grasses. 

The edges of the tools above are covered in a biodegradable tape that protects the sharpened edge during travel. 

 Before we could officially be certified as Type II Wildland Fire Fighters, we had to complete the class sessions of S-130 (Firefighter Training) and S-190 (Intro to Fire Behavior) as well as participate in a field day that consisted of simulating a fire, digging line, responding to spot fires and working as a single unit. 

Above, we gathered at the station in the early morning light before heading down to Ft. Carson for our field day.  Below is a video that I put together from our day out in the field.

It’s not the best video, but it’s my first.  I’m proud of it and extremely glad I purchased an Ultra FlipHD right before this round started.  If you are interested in beginning video, it’s a definite buy (though I don’t use the Flip Video Software that it comes with…).

 This is David, our lead instructor in the S-130 and S-190 classes and the sponsor for Fire 2, the Fire Management Team that is currently working with the El Paso County Crew.  He is an amazing instructor who shared his love for Wildland Fire Fighting through teaching and sharing stories of his own experiences.  He has touched the lives of the 19 of us Corps Members that had the privilege of training under him. 

 I guess I just love water bottles.  As I returned to Sun 7, we had an Independent Service Project (ISP) building / improving trails.  We all set our Nalgenes down and I had my camera.  When I eventually departed for Crown King, my team gave me a print of this image. 

 One of our site supervisors with CAP (Community Action Project of Tulsa) invited us out to the ranch to ride her horses.  After our ISP of fixing trails all morning, we spent the afternoon being cowboys and cowgirls as we attempted riding horses. Jessie (above) wasn’t as excited about it as some of the others, but she was a good sport and we all enjoyed hanging out with one another.  It was an experience that we got to share together. 

 As her owner states, like her two eyes, this beauty has two sides to her, an angel and a demon.  As a show horse, she was penalized for having two different color eyes.  As the mother of one of the horses that Sun 7 had the opportunity to ride, upon our return, we got to see her protective side. 

 In the summer of 2008, Crown King escaped being burned to the ground by the dedicated work of the local Fire Dept, Forest Service personnel, multiple crews from across Arizona and the shift in the wind that stopped the fire moving into the town.  The effects of this fire still scar the land surrounding Crown King.  The mountain side is covered in charred stumps of trees and death seems to reside on those forsaken slopes. 

Started by humans, this fire is an example of how things can go wrong in an instant.  Note, if you don’t know how to start and control a signal fire, you probably shouldn’t be starting one.

 We worked long hours burning piles of slash, cut brush and limbs to clear the properties of fuels.  We tended the fires, chunking the branches together and eventually putting them completely out by mixing dirt with the ashes (as well as snow and water if available) until the ground was cool to the touch.  Above, Nick, the Squad boss for Bravo tends to a fire. 

 The Crown King Fire Department consists of a number of full-time employed firefighters and first responders and is supported by volunteers throughout the community.  During the fire season, they receive help through several interns and different programs to give those in school the opportunity to gain experience working with a Fire Dept. 

 One of the fun things we got to do was light stuff on fire, using drip torches.  Basically, it’s a fuel can with a handle.  Inside is a mix of gasoline and diesel fuel that ignites the fuels you are trying to burn (aka: a pile of branches or a field of knee-high grass).  Though, when there is snow on the ground, things don’t seem to want to light, so we used a lot of drip torch fuel to ignite burn piles. 

Above, Nick and Angie of Squad Bravo refill empty drip torches so they can light off another set of piles (I believe they burned over 20 piles that day).

 In this round, all the teams were required to do a day of service to get the community to band together and get things done.  Nick organized our day of service with Turning Point, an emergency and long-term shelter for youth who have nowhere else to go.  We helped to build three individual garden beds and made an extra compost bin afterwards. 

Above, Nick organizes the forces and directs everyone to where we need to go. 

This is Bear, the dog that resides at Turning Point with the youth.  He loves bagels, AmeriCorps NCCC and AmeriCorps VISTA because we will feed him bagels.  I got him to pose by holding up the bagel I was eating directly above the camera.   

 This is the map that Chief created on Paint that shows how everything is connected.  Before we saw this, many of us, myself included, were wondering why the heck we were out in the middle of nowhere burning stuff.  Chief explained how everything is connected through the individual properties. 

The stuff in green is what has already been mechanically treated (fuels reduction by burning, wood chipper, etc.).  The properties in blue are what is currently being worked on because funding is there.  The few red areas are where people said “Stay off my property.”  These breaks in fuel will allow the Fire Dept. to prevent a fire from hitting the downtown of Crown King and wiping the town off the map.  They have started working on the areas that would do the most good for what little funding they get.  These breaks helped to save the town in the Lane 2 Fire. 

 Each of us needs the time to reflect upon the day.  Some of us write.  Others talk.  Lyndsay sits up on top of Engine 5 and enjoys the noise of the town around her.  Each of us has our own way of looking back on the days work. 

Yes, this round has been a struggle, but it has also been a blessing.  So much has been learned and the experience of working in the smoke has given me the drive to become a Wildland Fire Fighter.  God has been showing me the way, now I just need to follow where he leads. 

 God Bless and PEACE

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