Sunday, September 27, 2015

Things About (fire) Showers

First World Problems, y'all.

I have taken showers, or something that in some way resembled a shower, in places all over the world, literally. But nothing beats a fire shower, and here on the Kettle Complex, they've outdone themselves to make it a memorable experience.

In an exciting plot twist, the shower contractors here on the Kettle Complex operate a trailer with individual stalls, each with door opening to the outside world, kind of like a game show where you get to pick your shower experience. Will you take what's behind door number 5 - with a leaky shower head, a wad of hair in the drain and a questionable trail of incongruous slime down the west wall? Or will it be door number 3, with a dysfunctional lock on the handle that reveals a fully naked and VERY surprised firefighter inside? Maybe it's door number 9, which was cleaned recently but where you realize too late that it sits at the end of the hot water train, which apparently stopped for a breather back at door 7. It's luck of the draw in these phone booth sized boxes, just beckoning the frozen dirtbag in nomex to make the risk-laden decision.


Once you've committed, and, thanks to the shivering soul behind door 3, remember to lock your stall VERY WELL before you begin the monumental task of taking of several layers of nomex, fleece and long johns in a space about half the size of a juvenile coffin. Thoughtfully, the contractor has provided a fold down bench seat that is made of solid lead and which crashes to a horizontal position with the force and severity of a giullitine. I am not sure how the bench helps, as a seating position on it wedges your knees up against the opposite wall, making the removal of socks or pants laughable. But it's nice to sit for a minute and plan a strategy before you call the contractor to help you push the 85 lb seat back up against the wall.

Of course you forgot shower shoes on this fire, a classic rookie move that you will never admit to, but you are secretly counting on the shower people to have a giant vat of miscellaneous flip flops that you can fish out and slip on before anyone notices. It's a good thing you aren't picky about them matching, because two mates floating in the bleach water is just too much to ask. You try not to imagine which fungus-infested toes were last wrapped around the rubber as you slide your feet in - thanking god for the millionth time that you are a girl and these pink flip flops have most likely been on slightly cleaner and slightly fewer feet - just the handful of girls in camp and a couple of the smaller Mexican contractors, I am sure.

After a brief shudder, you're ready to get clean. Or at least to rinse the top layer of grime off and maybe consider reducing your armpit hair to a braidable length for convenience. Shaving is a problem in and of itself in the later weeks of fire, since you'll usually end up shaving off more goosebumps than hair, and leaving a stinging rash of regret up and down your legs. A lot of girls give up shaving all together during fire season, but after I started having dreams that I was cuddling with bigfoot, I opted to resume the regime.

Late season fires pose the difficult dilemma of whether to take a shower in the night, and go to bed with wet hair in sub-freezing temperatures, or a morning shower, looking forward to ice-crystal hair and being first naked, and then wet and naked, in the aforementioned temperatures shortly after dawn. In the particular day in question, I had opted for a morning shower, not willing to repeat the two week head cold that I blamed on my last late season night bathing. #longhairdocare

The cattle-call shower trailers where 8 girls change in the same space like a junior high PE class at least offers the communal warmth of everybody's steamy output, but in these individual stalls, the cutting edge venting technology in the roof that creates continuous airflow out of each booth creates the atmosphere of an igloo in the colder months.

But the water is hot - piping hot - and you climb in and start to think about how to let the rest of your crew know that you won't be back out on the line for two or three days, give or take. After a miraculous half day, the guilt for abandoning your post starts to set in and then the real strategizing begins. How to leave the sultry, sauna-like cubicle behind the curtain and emerge into the ice block domain of the dressing cubby. Thankfully, you don't have to leave the shower experience completely behind you, as the condensation from 250 degree water has accumulated in a thick layer across the ceiling, and what hasn't frozen solid is dripping in a fairly steady ice-cold rain all. over. your. naked. body. At this point you give up on any kind of an orderly process for reacquiring the layers you shed earlier in the morning. It's an all out panicked frenzy to get any kind of clothing on your body, STAT. Later you will realize that your shirt (and probably underwear) are on inside-out and backwards, but you just don't care.

You graciously, in a mildly hypothermic state, try to rinse the trail of incongruous slime from the shower wall and collect your wad of hair, unlike the uncouth cad in stall number 5, and make a hasty retreat down the rattling metal steps to the dirt below, where you promtly begin to undo all of your hard work getting clean. But not until you've returned the pink flip flops to the swirling vat of chlorine and thanked the shower contractor people, who ask you how it was, and mention casually that you have a giant booger smeared across your face. It's helpful, since they didn't think to install mirrors in the phone booths. It might have prevented too many inside-out shirts, I guess. By the time you get the booger handled and your numb feet back into your patiently waiting boots, which you are equally surprised and relieved to see have not accumulated any snow or black widows in your absence, your hair is a frozen mass of rigid dred locks, which is exactly why they make hats.

Happy shower day on the fireline, folks - oh, and you missed a spot shaving.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Things About Being a Line "Medic"

Everybody knows that a good day for an EMT on the fireline involves being as bored as possible. At least 452 people a day ask me, as they drive by on their missions of various importance, if I am bored, only to hear me say "YES", so they can respond with a resounding, "Good! We like our medics bored" and cruise off into firefighting oblivion. The script is rote. It is a verbatim refrain we hear a thousand times in the summer, and yet somehow, for the rest of the firefighting world, it never gets old.

Today, in the midst of my "boredom", which for this summer has involved reading over a dozen books, writing thousands of words, watching a couple movies and pretty much solving all of the world's problems, I decided to get creative with my time and make myself a gourmet lunch. And by gourmet lunch of course I mean a can of Cream of Chicken soup in the JetBoil.

Now anybody versed in the use of a JetBoil understands the delicate balance of cooking soup. The contraption was not idly named, and while it will boil water in mere minutes, it will also boil, and overboil, any other substance in equally short order. Cooking soup in the JetBoil involves a talented feathering of the fuel feed to keep the heat at a gentle minimum, coaxing the soup patiently into a soft rolling boil without exploding it all down the sides of the pot, across the tailgate and underneath the cooler. I know this from personal experience. Constant supervision and frequent stirring are vital. It's like making caramel from scratch, but a little trickier.

The whole time I stood there stirring my soup, feathering the heat, smelling the delicious waves of aroma, I knew that I had invited disaster. Nobody needs a line EMT unless they are directly in the throes of cooking soup. It's just an unwritten rule. So I stirred with a sigh of resignation, knowing that the bliss of my wilderness gourmet was short lived.

Sure enough, just as the CofC hit a gentle boil, a random Task Force Leader Trainee wandered over to my rig casually and leaned up against it with a "hey girl..." look in his eye. Judging by the wedding ring and the fact that I had just witnessed him eating his entire 3 pound pastrami sandwhich, I knew he was there for neither romance nor soup.

"Wondering if you want to go for a cruise... alleviate your boredom..." he throws down, which, loosely translated, means "my trainer ditched me here with no car and I have to go tie in with a crew, would you give me a ride in your super-sweet, pimped out medic-mobile with the heated seats, so I don't have to walk a quarter mile down the road?"

"But my soup! The heat is perfectly feathered! The boil is gentle! The pot is 7000 degrees - can't you see the orange flame thingies glowing on the side?" Were all the things that I didn't say. Nope. Of course he was saving me from my boredom. Of course I would oblige him. Of course it was no big deal that even the distraction of him talking to me threatened an immediate explosion of tailgate soup. I quickly shut down the JetBoil and started grumbling internally.

In addition to balancing my scalding mug of soup precariously as we jolted down the road, I was forced to throw my 385 pound book bag into the back so the TFLD had a place to sit. Interestingly enough, I forgot about the fiesta sized bag of Juanitas that were sitting directly under where I tossed the bag until later, when I restored my precious book bag to it's rightful place beside me. And just as I am finally recovering from all of this, the ambulance that had been posted serenely down the at the bottom of the road decided to pay me a visit, which resulted in me elbowing my mug of soup into the passenger seat. All because line EMTs are bored.

My soup was cold when I finally ate what was left, but I added some crushed Juanitas and pretended it was Chicken Enchilada soup, without the cheese or green chiles. Making lemonade out of those lemons, folks. It's just how I roll.

As the ambulance guys chatted me up, and the soup swirled in the black leather seat next to me, they pointed out cheerfully that my medic-mobile was marked "paramedic" on the back window. Yes, I explained. I was an imposter. My rental Tahoe was a hand-me-down from a "real paramedic", and even though I tried to scrape the "para" off the windows, it was cemented on through a chemical reaction of extreme heat, time and a good layer of mud. So I explained to the ambulance guys that I was given a field promotion, for time in rank, and would now be operating at an ALS level, if I could just borrow their narcotics. Also, would they like some soup?


It's not like it should be that surprising. Out on the fireline, every EMT: paramedic, basic or whatever, is called a MEDIC. The lines are grossly blurred. This is compounded by three things: 1. the general wildland fire population has NO idea what the difference is, 2. tradition and 3. a lot of wanna be blowhards out here who pretend to be something much more than they actually are. There is an epidemic of underexperienced EMTs (and some paramedics) who have no other affiliation and no field time that have some how wrangled a red card and an assignment, and run around offering to save lives in the most dangerous capacity possible. This is an area where some of us are working hard to bring more accountability to, and also quite Qixotic. But far be it from me to not get in on the trend. Sure I am a paramedic - look! My truck says so! And also I am very, very bored.



Saturday, September 19, 2015

Things About The Love of My Life

He hasn't called. He's not texting. He's not sending flowers or love letters or asking me out on dates. He isn't liking my Facebook posts or even reading my blog - that I know of. He's so out of touch with me that I am not sure that we will ever work out...

If I could ever meet the Love of My Life, face to face, I would like to ask him some things, like why it took him so long to decide to commit to me, and what the most important thing in his life is. If his answer is elk season, the Seahawks, his truck or his job, while I respect all of those things as Major Life Priorities, I think I would have to reevaluate the potential success of our Bond of Love. If his answer is his kids, relationship, integrity (that's a favorite for guys to throw around), or beer - then we have some common ground to build on. It would be a relief to know.

For me, the most important thing in life is relationship, and when you shake it down, the priorities of kids, integrity and, yes, even beer, can all be reduced down to that one. Because you can't love your kids without knowing them, without having relationship that gives you access to protect and provide for them. And you can't have integrity (which means being the same person behind closed doors that you are in front of the world) for any other reason than to build trust and protect relationships. And you can't drink beer well without good people in your life.

I know some ex-husbands that would argue that the priority of work over all else can also be distilled down to relationship, since it's only through work that you can provide for loved ones and pay for quality family time, but I believe the best times in life are free, and the best relationships aren't based on need. Not that I am advocating joblessness, but money - that's a periphery thing. Vital perhaps, but not The Most Important Thing.

My friend Christy keeps telling me that I need to write a list of all of the requirements (or at least wishes) for the Love of My Life and lock it away, so that when he finally comes around I can pull it out and go down the checklist. Every time I have tried to make this list I come up dry after "doesn't have an annoying laugh". Because every other thing, all of the tall, dark, handsome, uniformed, intelligent, funny, young at heart items on the list are all things that can be negotiated to some extent if the bottom line of Same Priority has been met.

I am sure that when we finally discuss it, the Love of My Life and me, we will find that our values line up beautifully. If not then I guess he's not really the Love of My Life, no matter how much I want for him to be, as I have experienced a few times over.

Once that conversation is over, the only question that remains is why the hell it took him so long to catch up to me? Doesn't he know how short life is? Doesn't he know I am getting old? There will be some explaining to do for sure.

In the meantime, I guess I will be content (ha!) knowing that he is out there, making his way to me in his own sweet time.








Friday, September 18, 2015

Things That Make Me Feel Swell

This morning started out like most mornings do for me. I had to get up, which in and of itself is altogether unpleasant, but even more so when my alarm goes off at 5:25 and I really SHOULD be in the medical tent by 5:30, but my hair hurts from not showering and I generally feel unpretty, unfriendly and not very likeable.

basically how I feel at 5:30 AM


I got up anyway, and managed to squeeze a shower in before I drove out to the line (which I am sure everyone on my division was grateful for), and as the day progressed, things got better.

For one thing, I had really great hair today. This was due in part to the much anticipated shower, new shampoo and the fact that I had no mirrors anywhere near me all day long. But I could just tell that my hair was Killing It. And also it smelled like peppermint and sunshine smashed together in a smoothie of awesome.

Secondly, I noticed at some point when I was walking around the truck (since that is exactly as far as I walked all day) that my thighs weren't rubbing together. That's a pretty monumental thing in the world of Liv, and I was kind of excited. Even though I knew it had more to do with the super tight long johns I was wearing that compressed those troublesome thigh rolls that are a perpetual problem, I wanted to believe it was somehow related to the three times on this fire that I did four or five squats. In all fairness to myself, I did do fifty plie squats one day, because I was being haunted by the Swedish-Accented fitness guru going on and on about how great my butt would look in a video that my medic buddy Melissa subjected me to last year. It's quite silly since everyone knows that Swedes are to be trusted more for their Chefs than their fitness gurus.

Today I also finished two books that I was reading, one by James Dashner (Eye of Minds), who is a terrible writer but has great story lines (The Maze Runner...), and Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird) who is a flipping fabulous writer but I get a little lost on her content from time to time. It was a good balance and actually did more for me as a writer than it did as a reader, which is not usually a conscious perspective I have when binge reading on fires. Tomorrow I will read some Clive Cussler and see what that does for my writing skillz.

Additionally, I interviewed a real writer - one with published novels, over the phone while I was sitting on a literal mountain top overlooking Lake Chelan and a giant moonscaped forest. The interview was both interesting and inspiring, especially toward the end when we talked about forming a little beer-drinking writers group this fall for moral support and an idea echo-chamber. I am prettty stoked about that. Almost as much as I am about my great hair.

Another cool thing was during our AAR (After Action Review at the end of shift) when the Safety Officer from Australia taught all of us some of the tricks of Australian Football, which involves a weird volleyballesque hit from the hand with the opposite fist. I was casually staying out of the hitting circle, both because I am a grossly non-athletic old woman, and because I have a broken shoulder (circumferential tear of the labrum which allows for partial dislocation and some Holy Hell pain with almost any extension movement) and didn't want to use that like a typical girl excuse. But one of the damn boys hit it right into my arms anyway, and what's a girl to do? Anything other than admit weakness or a broken shoulder, right? So I hit it, badly. But only as badly as some of the less athletic fire guys. I am sure my accompanying facial expression as I felt the spasmed muscles around my scapula tearing asunder was something akin to Edvard Munch's Scream painting. All the way home I planned out how I would spend the entire night alternately crying and taking various types of drugs to make it stop. As of this moment, using my right arm is mostly out of the question, which is interesting, because typing with one left hand is mostly a Comedy of Errors.



And then there was the older couple sitting in their golf cart at the top of their driveway over Lake Chelan as we came off the fireline, clapping and waving like a two person pep rally as our convoy of fire vehicles rolled by. The fact that I was following five pickups packed with studly bearded firefighters obviously helped with that, but I got a little choked up feeling like a vicarious hero, floating by on the shirttails of the real ones.












Sunday, September 13, 2015

Things I Skipped Over

I have been on this fire assignment for 11 days. Tomorrow I go home. I have written exactly NO WORDS this entire time. Pretty weird for me. Usually I am scratching off some loquacious communications either here or in other venues and getting my words out. But for almost two weeks I haven't had any words.

Maybe it's the week I spent working in the information office for the Area Command Team. Maybe I was inundated with words from crazy dumb people and it coincided with the guilt ridden deadline for the newspaper that I was seriously underachieving. Maybe I was worded out for awhile. I don't know.

I certainly isn't lack of things to say. I have been working with characters of all flavors on the North Star Fire that deserve mention at the very least, and full chronicling at best. I've run the gamut of a head cold, an earth quake, at least five different division supervisors, an education in Army National Guard medicine and a work force fresh off the boat from Australia and New Zealand.

My days consist of an alarm that goes off (when my phone isn't dead) at 05:25 AM, me putting it off until 06:10, which is when I inexplicably wake up voluntarily every morning. I get up and stagger to the bathroom here that has flushing toilets AND running water to brush my teeth before I appear in the medical unit to save a few pre-breakfast lives. On a normal fire we'd be up and at briefing by 06:00 but this is not a normal fire, for which I am grateful.,

Instead our briefing is at 06:45 and I shuffle over with my coffee and wedge myself amongst the safety officers and branch directors and listen to the weather report and fire behavior predictions, before I moved with the herd into our division breakout and get the specific rundown for the geographic area where I have been assigned.

It's here that the division supervisor makes some joke about my hair or how many naps I will get in during a shift and establishes my identity for the rest of his crews.

Then we have breakfast, which is invariably eggs and some pork product. I have been skipping lately, because you can only have eggs and pork so many times before it's just enough.

After breakfast I go back to the medical unit, where I sit and regret what I have eaten for awhile, and take care of a few last minute fire guys who need their blisters wrapped, a dose of DayQuil, or some blue fairy powder before we all head out to the line.

A typical drive to the line from fire camp is usually 30-45 minutes. This fire is no exception, and the road to division zulu is a combination of paved and dirt, including some spots of knee-deep moon dust that will coat the inside of your truck and mouth with a pasty film.

Then it's sitting. Radio into the Incident Command Post that I am at the drop point. Tie in with the division supervisor so he knows I am near by. Check with the crews, hand out some dayquil, hand sanitizer and bandaids. And sitting. Watching movies, reading books, scanning the radio, ears perking at any variation of the word medic, medical, emergency, injury... A few times a day I get a visit from a task force leader or heavy equipment boss, looking for cough drops, nail clippers, checking to see which movies I brought to watch.

The best part of a fire is the characters you get to meet. Like Dale from Australia - who got a head cold and thought I saved his life with a little Mucinex. Or Zane from Colorado who was secretly a paramedic but working as a task force leader and funny as heck. On this roll there was PFC Sevarina Zinc - an army medic who stayed busy at the medical unit checking people for eye worms and sinus infections. Then her replacement was a special forces army Sgt Lynch who had done multiple tours overseas and probably could have ACTUALLY diagnosed eye worms and sinus infections. I had a division supervisor who loaned me A Picture of Dorian Gray when I ran out of books. And a contractor who waited anxiously for me to get finished with my two copies of Cosmo so they could abscond with them. There was the weird engine dude who came into the med unit every night for "Supplies", wearing his radio harness and radio, hard hat, safety goggles and headlamp. Because ALWAYS BE READY.

I feel pretty lucky to be doing this job - at least until somebody gets on the radio hollering for the line medic and it's up to me to figure out how to haul out a blown knee from a ravine about a quarter mile deep, or something worse. I am thankful that I don't get a lot of the worses - I am perfectly content to deal with ankles and feet and arm gouges and spider bites and not have to see someone's career (or worse) end before my eyes. I don't need that kind of excitement. I get enough waiting to see which division supervisor finds my hiding spot and hangs out with me all day.