Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Volunteer Super-Folk

“Get out NOW!” How well does your life fit into a single bag or no bag at all? What do you have that you’d hate to lose? Photos? Gifts from lost loved ones? Financial or health records? What do you need to survive physically and emotionally?

My husband and I had planned a quiet afternoon at our rural mountain home until his fire radio sounded. There was a fire in our district—only four miles from our house. As department dispatcher, he was in charge of making sure he knew which firefighters took which vehicles to check out the location and whether those responders were safe. (People often mistake low clouds that rest in the valleys or even plumes of excavation dirt for smoke and send firefighters on wild goose chases trying to locate flames.) This time, one of our firefighters arrived on scene and reported it was, indeed, a fire—five acres. Everyone from our department prepared to go. Considering the wind, our chief called for local help. The county rural fire departments rallied their assets.

I stood by, packing bags and answering citizens’ worried calls my husband couldn’t manage as he handled two radios and his cell phone to track the responders in reports he’d hand in later. I thought of the volunteers getting authorization to leave their jobs, the people walking out on family plans or lunch or appointments; the single, the married, the retired, the young, the healthy and unhealthy—all rushing to their cars to report to a fire station to don their gear. As they rushed, so did the fire.

I asked my husband if we could see the fire from our elevated deck and he said, “Go look. It blew up!” I did and my stomach lurched. A billowing black and orange cloud obliterated the horizon that had been idyllic only minutes before. We were included in the expanded evacuation zone, although we could hear on the radios that the winds were carrying the flames away from us. Just in case, I packed suitcases for the car—all our current financial and health records, the laptop and charging cords, plenty of underwear (who wants to wear donated underwear?). I remembered the people in the raging California fires who never had a chance to pack anything and the people who tried and were burned to death.

Hearing the tumbling sometimes unintelligible communications from the field as my husband did, I thought of the firefighters—mechanics, rig workers, business owners and secretaries—trained on their own time and compensated only for equipment and maybe insurance. Not all volunteers are compensated for anything. Many pay for their own gear. Still, they go out at all hours of the day or night 24/7 to fight fires or floods or search for lost children or to back up paid medical workers. In a rural environment such as ours, they are a lifeline most county districts couldn’t afford to keep as employees. In these frequently self-centered times, nearly all departments have trouble finding enough volunteers to cover their calls. Who wants to work so hard under hazardous conditions for little or no pay to help people they may not know? Surely someone else will handle the problem. Volunteer auxiliaries struggle to provide food and drinking water off-site.

What was named the Titan Fire became a monstrosity, and the state sent in professionals to lead the attack. Tankers with slurry and planes to do spot drops and bulldozers and paid hotshot crews barreled over or down our county road. They were a welcome sight as our firefighters were exhausted after 16 hours of hard labor they weren’t used to doing. Following several close calls in which volunteers defended their own lives from the treacherous blaze, they were glad to have professionals at their sides.

The 930 acre Titan fire is contained at this writing six days later (which means it’s corralled by a “safe” already-burned perimeter), although the center of the difficult terrain will burn perhaps for weeks since this land is semi-arid and we don’t have excess water to extinguish all coals. The state personnel completed the enclosure and left the rest to local crews who will check the perimeter several times daily to make sure the fire is burning itself out inside where it can no longer threaten people’s homes and lives. With frequent summer lightning in the area as well as careless play with campfires, fireworks, or gunfire, we watch carefully. We live here. We have everything to lose. Some citizens donated food or money or offered rooms to evacuees. (That’s when you find out you have friends.) Some have the audacity to complain that this or that could have been done differently. Well duh. But they didn’t help anyone beyond themselves. Several years ago, I lived relatively near a mountain wildfire in which volunteer firefighters (a husband and wife) lost their animals and their log home that had been built by her grandfather while they were struggling to protect others. I wonder if I could have been as altruistic.

As we celebrate this country and its Independence Day, we must remember that we have a country because of the sacrifices of others—some of whom may have been relatives. When we’re lazy or selfish, we risk what has been earned the hard way. Not all heroes are volunteers, but they are the pure-hearted ones who have nothing to gain. During the Titan Fire, I heard their weariness, their fear, their determination, and I am deeply grateful they stepped forward. I was raised to realize that helping others is the highest calling. And a good thing it is, because as I write, we’re hearing reports of a stubborn spot fire beyond the perimeter.

2 comments on “Volunteer Super-Folk

  1. Frances Sullivan
    July 4, 2023

    I am praying for your safety and for those whose arms and hearts are there to help.

  2. Ivy
    July 5, 2023

    What a thought-provoking article. It’s interesting to think about what items we would take with us if we had to evacuate our homes. Personally, I would take important documents like passports and birth certificates, sentimental items like family photos and heirlooms, and practical items like clothes and toiletries.

Leave a Reply

Follow This Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 324 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: