Things About Fire Camp - Again

This is dedicated to my buddy Christy who makes every fire camp feel just like home. In spite of the stinky feet. 

My brother asked what a fire camp was like. So I showed him some pictures. He commented that it was a lot like a military camp, and all of the Fire-Powers-That-Be would be giddy to hear that. But although they fancy themselves a para-military organization, I'd go out on a limb to say that you'll find a great deal more Patagonia, North Face, Starbucks Coffee and Internet Service at any given fire camp than you'd see in a military base camp. But I could be wrong. 

Fire camp is divided up into several different areas. The layout varies depending on location but the idea is generally the same. You have the food unit, or mess hall, which is usually not too far from the crew sleeping areas, which are usually as far removed as possible from the overhead sleeping areas, identified by the name brand tent collection, which is usually close-ish to the Incident Command Post, or the ICP, which is the nerve center for Fire operations, and involves yurts or trailers for the incident commander, medical unit, communications, information, logistics, facilities, planning, finance and whatever other bureaucratic  nonsense they can think to slip in there. Like human resources, agency liaisons and resource advisors. It's like a circus with a bunch of high priced monkeys making work for themselves. Myself included. 

In the med unit, we treat everything from the sexually transmitted disease you brought from that last kegger at home, to the ingrown toenail you got from the boots that you bought a size too small. We are ready to deal with colds, diahrrea, constipation, fevers, vomiting, headaches, knee aches, urinary tract infections, Really Big Slivers, poison oak, poison ivy, spider bites, heat rash, high blood pressure, back spasms, etc, etc, etc... and of course, blisters. 

Feet are our stock and trade. Maybe some of us fireline medical people are repressed podiatrists, but nobody with a foot aversion would make it out here. I have seen the feet that nightmares are made of. I have also seen beautiful, soft, clean little feet with nary a hotspot that I am obliged to bandage "preventatively" for the lady in camp who has to walk All The Way to the shower unit every day. 

Oh yes. The shower unit. Depending on location, accessibility, and contractor, I try to space my showers out a couple of days at least. Us girls have it a little easier as we make up about 15% of the bodies-needing-showered and we rarely have to wait in line for our side of the shower trailer. I always feel sorry for the filthy boys standing in a neverending line for a 4 minute, probably cold shower in one of 5 stalls. Some shower units have nice private compartments with mirrors and stuff, where you can change and everything sans audience. Most of them have a few shower stalls and an open locker room changing area. Because who doesn't like to get naked with a bunch of strangers, right? If you are especially lucky, you time your overdue shower for when the shower truck runs completely out of water. Then you can stand there dripping for an hour while the tenders refill or get out with your soapy hair and try again later. That's always pretty special. 

The shower unit on this incident offers the added indulgence of shower curtains that molest you the whole time you're in the stall. You know, the plastic ones that are magnetically compelled to attach themselves to your naked rear end and wrap affectionately around you while you're washing your hair. It's pretty cool. Especially when you walk into the trailer and see a row of gently embraced bottoms behind the caressing white vinyl. I'd take a picture but with my luck one of the butts would be the Human Resources lady and I'd have to go through sensitivity training or something. 

Anyway, I've spaced it out so that I should only have to take two more showers before I leave this place. Which still seems like too much when you think about the attack shower curtains. 

I'm up to about my thirtieth day on fire this year, and I'm at the point where it is absolutely requisite to find humor in everything. Including half-showers, grabby curtains and the rookie commo guy with really bad diarrhea, running for his life across camp to an outhouse that I made a mental note to avoid for the duration. 

I sure hope HR doesn't find my blog. Being a medic I should be more sympathetic but I think I used up the last of my sympathy on the kid from Tenessee who got poison oak "down his britches" and needed to be wrapped in gauze everyday. His accent and southern colloquialisms were cute enough to make me willing to get close to the rapidly spreading rash and help him out with my mad wrapping skills. 

Things That I Don’t Like To Do

I decided that there has been too much sadness. And then on top of the sadness, contention. And more sadness. And it’s just too much. So before any more of it goes on. Or before I cry myself to sleep in fire camp for 100 reasons and one more night, I decided that it’s time to laugh. Laugh the way we used to about the Most Ridiculous Things. Wherever we can find the joy.

Working in the medical unit on a fire is a pretty boring job. Or at least everybody hopes it is a boring job because if it’s not, then somebody is hurting and probably, somebody is going to be in trouble. But usually it is a boring job, where we sit around, either in camp, or, more often for the majority of us, in a vehicle out along the black edge of the fire somewhere, listening to the radio and perking our ears to everything that sounds like “medic”, “medical”, “emergency” or “injured”. Those words come infrequently, unless you have 16 medics on a fire and an anal-retentive medical unit leader who demands three daily radio check ins, which results in no fewer than 44 over the air callouts of medics in various locations with various numeric designations. On this fire,  my paramedic partner Melissa and I happen to be Medic 8. Which my division safety officer, also bored, deemed reminiscent of “Medicaid” and refers to us as such now at every opportunity. The medical unit leader asked me which number I wanted and I said 7, but since it was taken, and he said that 17, 27, 37 and 77 were all out of the question, he finally relegated us to Medic 8 and told me to stop being difficult, which is truthfully my main occupation in the medical unit.

There is an unspoken rule in fire camp that the medical unit is also supposed to double as the comedy unit. I think it has something to do with laughter being the best medicine, and the morbidly humorous people that EMS attracts, and the fact that if the communication unit tried to be funny, probably people would end up getting hurt. Case in point was a medical “scenario” that some of the Powers That Be decided to run the other day without telling anyone it was a mockup. Naturally, all hell broke loose in the commo unit and out on the line, and a couple of people were reprimanded severely for driving too fast (in the wrong direction, perhaps) to a life threatening emergency scene that they didn’t know was just pretend. All in all, a terrible idea.

The other night one of the medic guys walked into the tent carrying a bag of ice. It was nearly bed time, and for the most part, ice acquisition occurs during the morning cooler restocking ritual on the way out of camp. One of the other guys commented curiously on the bag of ice he held in his lap and his witty comeback was:  “I was missing my wife.” It was well timed comedic greatness at it’s finest.

This morning, I got back from briefing, and my partner was finishing up an evaluation on a patient with a severe case of homesickness, which we usually treat with an inordinate amount of synthetic sympathy and gushing attention, which seems to bring patients around rapidly. Melissa asked me how the knife fight rematch at the meeting turned out, and I replied that the Other Guy won but I had been able to stop the bleeding after a few minutes. Her patient looked pretty uncomfortable and decided to go check on the physical welfare of his crew.

I am fairly certain no one in camp thinks us medical people are as funny as we do. But there is an odd amount of assorted overhead that lingers around our tent for an inordinant number of chapstick tubes and Kleenex packages. I am drumming it up to our hilarity, myself. And the single clean outhouse with a “DO NOT ENTER  - MEDICAL USE ONLY” sign that people in our inner circle like to use. So far we haven’t had any run ins with HR, which is pretty shocking considering our behavior.

Today, during another long and boring day on the line, my partner decided we were doing a “card workout”. At first I heard cardio and my instinctive response was no, no and oh yeah, heck no. But she pulled out a deck of playing cards and made a cute face. I had already refuted her fitness advances repeatedly on this assignment, but I had made the critical error of mentioning how great it would be to lose some weight before I die of morbid obesity; so miss bubbly 110 pound cuteness has made it her personal mission to remind me about the pitfalls of EVERYTHING I eat and challenge me to absurd death-defying workout routines. Like a “card workout”, wherein each suit of card represents a different exercise, and the number on a given card determines repetitions. For example, hearts are ten second planks, so the 10 of hearts is 100 seconds of planking. My first question was “why?” which she didn’t dignify with an answer, my second question was “the whole deck?” which she benevolently offered to cut in half for me, and by that time I was out of questions that wouldn’t just make me look belligerently lazy and totally pathetic.

I made it through what I would consider half of the deck – although by objective standards I guess it was the lighter half. It was apparent pretty quickly that 100 seconds of planks was only going to work for me if I switched sides, and she also had to settle for girl pushups due to some pretty lame excuses about a torn rotator cuff and nerve displacement.. I am not totally convinced she wasn’t hoping I would have a heart attack or something so she could use her rusty ALS skills on me. I turned the cards for her as she finished the deck, continuing to make lame excuses and point out obvious factors to justify my laziness, like our difference in age and how I really wasn’t going for the six pack look these days. Smartly, she tuned me out and made me feel guilty enough to join her whenever a diamond popped up and dictated a rock press up, since my rock was somewhat smaller than hers anyway, and my arms CLEARLY need the help. I am not sure why I listen to her at all, since she’s the kind of person who gets up before 5 AM to go running, and I think that is an idea straight from the pit, but sometimes she shares the celery from her lunches with me, so I put up with it. Apparently celery is on the approved list of foods for Liv. Snickers bars are not, so I had to sneak around to the back of the truck to eat it without judgement.

It kind of sucks to know how sore I will be tomorrow for my half-deck workout, but it passed a few minutes of a very long day and alleviated a little bit of the Snickers guilt. I would love to pretend that exercise was My Favorite and that it Brought Me Life and all that jazz, but I will have to contend that the Snickers bar was far more satisfying than the 5 burpees I flopped through.  I read a Women’s Health magazine today and it is always disappointing when I set the issue down and remember that I am not lithe and in yoga pants. And I set all these goals in my head for when I get home, knowing full well that daily pilates will be replaced with cleaning Aspen’s bedroom and substituting in Special Ed at the school. It’s never as easy as it should be. But maybe it’s gonna be a whole lot easier this year. I think so. Especially if we remember to laugh. And avoid Burpees.

Things That I Read III

Now, here it is… the moment all of my bookwormy friends have been waiting for… the annual Fire Season Book Revue III!

This season started out a little wobbly in the reading department. I have been with a partner the entire season, which always cramps my reading style, and then to add insult to injury, I was also stuck in camp for a week, where reading was nigh unto impossible, although I did skim my way through a couple of books about back pain, and how to fix it, 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back and The Egoscue Method of Healing Through Movement. Both have interesting but almost contradicting recommendations. I decided to take bits and pieces from both to heal myself. I would like to assume that this is the reason that my back has gotten a whole lot better – but I think it might have something to do with certain weights being lifted off of my shoulders, some careful exercise and also some inactivity.

When I finally just decided to give my partner the cold shoulder and delve into my books, my first priority was a book that my brother Gabe gave me for Christmas that I had been anticipating reading for over six months. And by anticipating, I mean feeling guilty for not having yet read…

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch was one of the longest reads that I have waded through since high school, with the exception of Atlas Shrugged. This is a book that nearly defies genre, although I think it technically falls inside of the fantasy/sci–fi-ish realm. It is the long and winding story of an orphan named Locke and the misfortunes that befalls him as he makes his way through life riding the successes of thievery and confidence schemes. Told in a voice reminiscent of an enlightenment era author, the story rings of Dickens, Shakespeare, and Tolkien, with a splash of modern humor and language thrown in. The book was long. And not a merrily-skipping-through read. If I was able to tune out the clamoring radio (having a partner helped with this) and avoid distractions (having a partner did not help with this) I was easily sucked in and transported to the Italianesque homeland of the anti-hero and his comrades. The author delivers descriptions in enough detail to create an intimate imagining of his medieval world. It was a good story. A great twisting plot that went on and on… almost enough to make a series of books, which I understand the author has produced as well. The characters, unsavory as they may have been, drew me in, and I am curious enough to look up the next book and make sure that they survive. This book is NOT for the faint of heart reader, and isn’t conducive to superficial and distractible reading. But it is worth the chewing through if one has time, imagination and inclination.

Born To Run by Chris McDougall – This book was actually a surprising delight. I only started to read it because I had forgotten to grab my other books before I left camp and I happened to have the digital copy on my iPad. I was just bored enough to read a book about one of my least favorite subjects: running. MacDougall is a writer for Men’s Health Magazine, and a good one. I thoroughly enjoyed his quest to find out why he was not able to run without falling victim to one or more of the many common afflictions that plague a vast majority of modern runners. He follows a winding path through the anthropological evolution of man into the runner (or non runner?) that he is. Through a series of interconnected rabbit trails, Born to Run outlines the lifestyle of the Tarahumara, an ancient Mexican tribe of trail runners, as well as chronicling several colorful real life characters who have made a lifestyle of running ridiculously long distances. In the book you are also acquainted with a condensed version of the history of long distance running in the US, and all of the big names associated with the sport for the last several decades. Being a non-runner, myself, but also being a wanna-be anthropologist, the book actually inspired me to look at running in a different light, and maybe try it someday. MacDougall even goes briefly over the history and evolution of the modern running shoe, and all of the ailments that go along with it. Without making any proclamation in defense of a specific approach to running, or for that matter, life, the author does a great job asking question, posing several plausible answers, but mostly, inspiring the reader with his sense of humor and aptitude for great storytelling. If somebody can make running sound appealing to me, you know he must be good.

Still Life With Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child was a scary murder mystery. It was all of the creepy things rolled into one. Like Goonies meets True Detective and a little bit of Sherlock Holmes. Bouncing from one character to the next, it took me awhile to figure out who the bad guys actually were. Of course, being an excellent self-proclaimed-plot-discerner, I was on to the answer well before the last chapters. OK, maybe towards the end, but still… Pendergast is an eccentric-to-the-point-of-creepy FBI agent who lands in town to investigate serial murders that haven’t even happened yet. He recruits a high school reject goth to help him, and they trip over local bungling, if well intentioned, law enforcement as the bodies start to drop. Gruesome detail and suspenseful scenes play like a movie in the book. And I am somewhat surprised the 2003 novel hasn’t been filmed yet. It’s good, and original enough that I am sure Matthew McCaughnay could do something magical with it. In the end, a lot of people die. But not the “real” bad guy, which is interesting, and also politically correct I suppose. I liked it. I read it in one day straight through. My partner was fairly certain I hated her since I didn’t utter a word from 8 AM until 3 PM.

Murder in Caney Fork  by Wally Avett - Obviously I ordered and read this book because it was written by an Avett. The boy’s uncle, to be exact. But even so, it was a good read, entertaining, and short. What Mr. Avett lacked in fluid fiction (he’s a newspaperman by trade), he made up for in interesting detail. The plot was predictable but told from a different point of view than one would expect. The story was rich with World War II era southern culture. Highlighting carefully the racial issues still plaguing the area as well as the clash of modern and historical lifestyles that struggle against each other to survive, and the necessary balance of legal integrity and vigilante justice that it took to get by back then. The characters were believable and well developed for the most part. And the food descriptions made me want to run home and fry up a chicken right quick. I liked the story, of course, that it was set in North Carolina, around what I would like to imagine are the roots of my favorite boy band. If you want to read it, I’ll loan it to you. Or order your own copy to support a newspaperman who finally got his story printed.

The cool thing (as if there’s only one) about my book reviews every summer is the sure bet that nothing I have read has ever even blipped your radar before. Totally random weirdness that I pulled off of a shelf. Or a 15 year old buddy gave to me. Or whatever. Your life might never have been enriched by these books if I hadn’t thrown them in your face without rhyme or reason. You’re welcome. And I am sure you’ll want to run right out and get them. Or not. But at least it’s not the 37th review for the Maze Runner or something. At least I am original.

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