Advice to girlfriends of hotshots
Having been on both sides of this particular issue, Iâ€™d like give a bit of advice to girlfriends of guys on the line, especially if youâ€™re new to the fire world. Iâ€™m trying to keep this from being harsh, but thereâ€™s a couple of realities here: not hearing from your guy for four days, or a week, or even fourteen days, is not a tragedy…heâ€™s probably fine, heâ€™s almost certainly thinking of you, but leaving a message on his cell phone every six or twelve hours isnâ€™t supportive, itâ€™s annoying. If you really feel compelled to tell your SO every gory detail of your day-to-day life (and I realize that this often constitutes â€˜closenessâ€™), keep a journal. Write a series of letters or entries and give it to him when he gets back. Iâ€™ve regularly been on project where Iâ€™ve been completely out of contact for up to six weeks…I tried to telegraph this to my SOs at the time, but when you can get called out on two hours notice, this isnâ€™t always practical. Coming back to find one thoughtful, pithy, humorous, loving, upbeat e-mail meant so much to me…it meant that he understood I was out, he was willing to stick it through and stand on his own two feet until I came back.
I know one Hotshot whose girlfriend managed to get a hold of him off the line; she raised such a ruckus with the IC about a â€˜personal tragedyâ€™ that they sent someone in for him, hiked him out twelve miles to where there was cell service. Turns out her grandmother had died and she wanted somebody to talk to about it. He dumped her on the spot. When I was just a Hotshotâ€™s girlfriend, I thought that was pretty harsh (and it is). When I got to be the one going out, I started to understand. Working fire is the most amazing combination of high and misery; endorphins and camaraderie on the one side just barely tip the balance with fatigue, filth, and pain on the other side. It doesnâ€™t take much to add to that negative side and make the experience just horrible. I remember one call from my mother, three weeks in to ten consecutive weeks in the field: â€œWell, your cat just died and your father and I are getting a divorce.â€ I was doing great up till then; that pretty much ruined the rest of my summer, and I would have done just fine not knowing until after Iâ€™d gotten back on something more like and even keel.
Ladies (and any guys in similar positions, out there lurking), I guess what I want to say is stand by your man, donâ€™t wrap around him like a vine on a tree. Learn as much as you can about fire, his crew, his job, and firefighting life. Cruise Abâ€™s links…thereâ€™s some great stuff there. Make him as proud of you as you are of him; make his homecomings worth his absences. Tazlina Girl, Tonya, Catskilldog…I really, truly, understand where you are right now, emotionally and intellectually…my heart goes out to you. A few things that made waiting for my man easier were reading his favorite books; I kept finding echoes of him, and new understandings of his behavior, on every page. Talk to his family; ask his mother what his favorite foods are, and have them waiting for him when you do see him. Tazlina Girl…you might try calling the town Chamber on commerce in the community nearest where you think your man is; they can probably tell you where the crews are getting their food, where theyâ€™re staging, and the best and nearest airport. I know one gal who got a hold of her man by volunteering to help with the food service for his crew on the Hayman Fire in Colorado last year (that took some background work). She showed up with a big smile and his lunch. He was awful glad to see both.
Another thought; I was on one extended project where we had a secretary for the crews, part of whose job was to coordinate between the dispatcher and the families of the crewmembers. It might make sense to get together with any other family members or SOs of members of your guyâ€™s crew, pick a spokesperson, and have that spokesperson stay in contact whenever possible with the crewboss. That person can be in charge of finding fire information, finding out when ever possible where exactly the crew is and what theyâ€™re doing, and getting that information out to the families. For us, Mama Pili as we called her was our link to â€˜homeâ€™…she had to know where we were for professional reasons, but she could also be counted on to keep everybody at home in the loop, without taking up too much of our time or tying up our communications.
Nerd on the Fireline