Compromises and Fire Retardant

Tanker 850, a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT)

So last time I checked in, I was still reeling from my dislike of my new southeastern Oklahoma homeland. While Oklahoma does have its redeeming qualities, a part of me was still missing. That longing and need to be with my people during fire season primarily. The tribe of red and blue shirts respectively. I think a part of my failure to adapt stemmed from loneliness in a new land. Lack of familiarity and so much change just created the perfect storm for my poor soul to accept all at once. My sense of purpose was broken and lost. Depression set in, and well you guys know the rest for the most part. In order to help return me to a point of homeostasis, a bargain was struck and a compromise was reached.

The bargain and compromise: I would return to my northern Nevada homeland for the 2021 Fire Season to help return to a state of homeostasis and restore balance to my world, as long as I returned for the winter to Oklahoma. I thought this a fair and just agreement. I gladly accepted the terms and conditions of the arrangement. Simple rules: Don’t cheat, and be safe. Simple enough terms to abide by. I set the same rules for Dakota and off we went seeking this summer adventure.

For those that are unfamiliar with my job let me explain. I work for a company that furnishes Fire Retardant by government contract to federally governed aviation contractors. I am a CWN, Call When Needed Loader. In short, I mix and load fire retardant into firefighting aircraft known as SEATs (Single Engine Air Tankers). These aircraft then deliver their payload to specific fire assignments via government resource order. We mix and load the mud, they deliver it to the fire line for ground resources. Sounds easy enough but if it was easy everyone would do it.

While the job seems simple enough by definition there are some major caveats that go along with working fire season.

  1. You will have 2 families. Your civilian family, and your fire family. These two don’t always see eye to eye as often, time is divided unequally during a fire season. Many people travel for work, myself included. Coming from all different places to descend down upon a certain Air Tanker Base for the given season. Your fire family will most certainly understand your plight during the season when certain things happen, that your civilian family might not be able to grasp. By that I mean only the bonds that can be formed when working closely with people for 5-6 months a year everyday.

2. You will miss things. Your absence will be noted at parties, and BBQs, and various events. You’ll miss birthdays, anniversaries, births, and funerals. Most certainly while you are working, your friends will be enjoying going to events. This is but one of the prices we pay to play, and everyone pays to play in this game. It sucks to be left out, but this is one of the choices we choose to make. The hours worked are long and often times bedtime stories are read over Facetime, and sometimes calls don’t come at pre-scheduled times due to the work.

3. Loss of purpose at the end of the season (and income). After having worked a season in close proximity to your coworkers and feeling purposeful about your work, there comes a sense of loss. When we re-enter the civilian world, we might find ourselves lost to a point. Separated from our former coworkers and thrust back into our “normal” lives. Everyday activities like grocery shopping, and laundry, and even another job might not seem as fulfilling. Some civilian family members and friends might not understand that an adjustment period quite similar to that of soldiers returning from deployment is necessary.

Now these might sound a bit extreme for someone in my position and to an extent they are just that. I am NOT a firefighter. I am the ground support to the air support. Firefighters are the true heroes out on the line risking their lives battling wildfires. I am quite fortunate that my job doesn’t entail half the dangers these brave men and women face as I am stationed in one location for the duration of my season. However, this doesn’t make my value any less then theirs. Without me the aircraft essentially have nothing to drop and no one to help. We are all necessary tools in the box. We each hold our place and position and given purpose.

Me loading T-850 for a fire

Published by Janeanne Ward

Hi there, I'm Janeanne Ward. Welcome to the chaos that is my life. Some of this is happy, some of it not so much, but hey it's my bowl of Chex Mix Memories. All in all at the end of the day these are my ramblings and I'm Just Janeanne.

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