A Day in the Life of a Female Wildland Firefighter

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What Bailey McDade does for a dwelling is hardly what you’d name typical. As a wildland firefighter, she’s tasked with stopping the unfold of wildfires proper the place they begin — and with stopping these fires from shifting out of rural areas and into extra populated communities. And after a spate of wildfires devastated elements of the West Coast this Summer time, the job she does annually is extra necessary now than ever.

In October, McDade was featured as a hero in “Defending Our Heroes: A Tribute to Security and Innovation,” a multiplatform marketing campaign being run by Plastics Make It Attainable. I caught up with McDade—– who’s now on the off season after a Summer time of full-time firefighting — by telephone and received a full rundown of simply what her job entails on a day-to-day foundation. My dialog with the 25-yr-previous Taylor Swift-loving millennial is under and has been frivolously edited for readability and brevity.

POPSUGAR: I might love to listen to a bit extra about your background and about the way you began doing the work that you simply’re doing.
Bailey McDade: Properly, let’s examine. The place do I start? I went faculty for wildlife science, and I did some conservation work with that. And it kind of led into my begin with the Forest Service and into hearth, and sort of simply tumbled me into the hearth world and hasn’t spit me again out but. [laughter] However it’s a very, actually enjoyable job. I work with numerous younger individuals. People who love touring. Individuals which might be OK with sleeping within the dust beneath the celebs for half a yr.

PS: So what’s your technical job title, and what do you do?
BM: I am a wildland firefighter. I used to type of do all the above so far as conservation work, however now I strictly do forest fires. I do not work for a city or a metropolis. They ship us everywhere in the nation, wherever there are wildfires — and it is a seasonal job. So we work, sometimes, round 200 hours or so on a fireplace, after which we get a few days off, after which we return on the market. It is a fairly grueling schedule for about six months, after which I get the Winters off.

PS: What does a traditional day through the hearth season seem like?
BM: Nicely, it actually relies upon. For a standard day, you simply should be actually, actually versatile. You by no means actually know what you are going to be doing, what your task is. However in the event you’re assigned to a big hearth anyplace within the nation. . . you will sometimes go, and anticipate to be there for 14 days and work every day for about sixteen hours, typically a bit longer. It relies upon. Hearth does not sleep. [laughter]

However you get up. You eat breakfast. You are on this huge camp with all the opposite hearth crews, and it is kind of our duty to get our vans prepared and get all of our gear prepared. And I feel that is the large factor. As a result of we’re all doing the identical factor, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing; we may be climbing all day lengthy, or we is perhaps doing a burn operation the place we’re lighting issues on hearth. Or we may be establishing hoses and pots to do construction safety. However both means, we’ve got fairly minimal gear, however it’s very specialised in order that we’re sort of able to go if there is a hearth. Able to spray water. Able to be mountaineering.

There’s additionally an entire listing of drugs that we now have prepared at each website. It is a type of quite a bit to get into, however we sometimes have gotten a pair of pants and a button-down shirt, they usually really feel like simply common material however they’re made out of plastic. So I sort of put on the identical shirt and similar pants for six months, they usually should get us by way of no matter we’re doing. I might work 14 days or 14 to 18 days, after which come house for 2 days, after which go proper again out. So I all the time have a backpack. One pair of pants and a shirt and my backpack, and I can go anyplace.

I am positive you’ve got in all probability seen footage, however every part we have now to battle the fires is often carried on our backs. And we all the time have our boots, our helmets, and our shirts and pants and gloves in a forty five-pound backpack that is obtained to hold no matter we’re utilizing. I’d work an entire hearth utilizing nothing however a shovel or an ax or a chainsaw. Typically, we do not have water. However that is what all of our specialised gear is for. I could be climbing for 10 hours; I may be chopping down timber; I may be strolling via flames. So all the things that we now have is light-weight and sturdy . . . every thing that we have now is a few kind of plastic mix, with some issues being harder than others. I’ve this piece of fabric that goes round my face, a face shroud, that clips on to my helmet and that alone is all we’ll use to cease a number of the warmth and the smoke and assist shield our airways when strolling proper by way of the hearth.

PS: What was 2017 like for you? The place have been you preventing the fires?
BM: In Arizona, I used to be on a crew. I sometimes work on an engine crew. So for the primary few months of fireside season, Arizona was actually getting slammed with fires. And it was plenty of — properly, just about being on name for six months, 24/7. We have been working actually lengthy hours going to lots of new fires in Arizona. After which sometimes, as quickly because the monsoon rains hit, they kind of ship us off to wherever else within the nation wants assist. And this yr it was the Northwest for positive. I spent a few month in Oregon, a few month in Montana, slightly little bit of time in Idaho and Utah touring by way of. However, yeah, the previous few months of fireside season, I used to be up within the Northwest. The fires have been actually dangerous there this yr.

I calculated it out, and we labored simply over 2,000 hours within the final six months. So if that have been a traditional work week, that might be about eighty five hours every week for six months. So you do not embrace on a regular basis that you simply camp out after which sleep outdoors within the woods and all that. It was undoubtedly an extended season, however no one that is doing this job is doing it accidentally. No one hates it. Everybody loves their job or they would not be right here.

PS: So if you’re out and also you’re on location, what do you do within the time whenever you’re not preventing fires?
BM: So I do have a station that I can go to. And if we’re not assigned to a big hearth but, we have now our luggage packed, our gear’s prepared, after which we’ll go work on typically thinning tasks or making gasoline brakes to assist shield communities if hearth have been to return by way of. There’s a number of chainsaw work. We’ll assist out with the opposite forest service issues typically, clearing campgrounds and roads and issues like that. However we’re just about on name. We now have a two-minute response time. Inside two minutes of getting a name from one in every of our lookouts, we’re supposed to have the ability to be within the vans with our gear able to go to the hearth.

PS: And is it the identical group of individuals or is it totally different each time?
BM: My crew is identical. From yr to yr, some individuals depart. Some individuals change crews. However the hearth world, usually, is fairly small. This Summer time I used to be getting lunch and I bumped into a man that I used to be on a crew with final yr. So that you type of run into the identical individuals. However no, my crew stays the identical for each hearth that we’re on for the entire season. You grow to be a gaggle. Like I stated, we sleep subsequent to one another on the bottom. Most of us do not often arrange tents. You type of simply lay your sleeping bag down subsequent to your buddy and go to mattress. You get up. You eat three meals a day with them; you battle fires with them.

PS: What do you do for the remainder of the yr? Do you have got one other job, and what do you do to unwind?
BM: I do. I work slightly bit. I make candles and promote them at a farmers market within the Winter. However proper now, I’ve acquired a variety of plans to journey. A whole lot of hearth individuals, I feel, type of what we miss throughout that season — it is a tremendous job, however you do not actually have any free time. You do not even get to determine what you are consuming for lunch daily. So everybody splits. I’ve associates in Iceland, Peru, Thailand, Colorado. All my hearth buddies are all over proper now. Everybody simply sort of takes an enormous chill capsule for the Winter. And I am planning to go to Argentina in a few month with my dad.

I truly get a tough time from considered one of my hearth buddies as a result of I nonetheless take pleasure in tenting and mountaineering within the off season. Most individuals say, “Hey, we do this for work. You actually need to go tenting?” However I really like being outdoors. I’ve a canine, and I attempt to take her in all places with me, and we go on a whole lot of street journeys, go to a whole lot of parks. Within the wintertime — the final two Winters — I have been making an attempt to maintain up with some wildlife analysis, since that is what I went to high school for. I did loads of massive cat analysis on jaguars and mountain lions and bobcats, and that is sort of taking me far and wide. I have been to Belize a couple of occasions for it, and final yr, I spent a month snowshoeing within the Yukon in Canada with a good friend the place we have been monitoring Canada lynx and issues and performing some wildlife analysis there.

I am type of a science nerd. I wish to play within the woods, nevertheless it’s type of additional cool that we get to perform a little little bit of wildlife analysis there too.

PS: Do you see different firefighters within the off season or simply if you’re on the job?
BM: I do, yeah. I feel a part of it’s we’re on a really distinctive job schedule, kind of like academics getting to hang around with one another within the summertime. I haven’t got many associates outdoors of fireside that may decide up and go to Thailand for every week within the wintertime. [laughter] I reside with a woman that is on one other hearth crew, and we simply frolicked with a few individuals from my hearth crew final night time. So, yeah. We undoubtedly can not seem to keep away from one another. I like it, although. It is like household.

PS: What do you see your self doing subsequent?
BM: I am fairly comfortable in hearth proper now. I really feel like an enormous a part of habitat administration is fairly instantly concerned with hearth — the areas that have to see hearth. Sure crops want hearth to make higher habitats for animals, and so I really feel like that is kind of my justification for it; we actually are managing the land. And I like that I can work in nationwide forests and have an enormous scope and get to journey to locations I by no means would see, elements of the nation I might by no means see if I weren’t in hearth. So I am fairly pleased I am sticking round in hearth for now. I feel I will not shut the door on enjoying with crops and animals and doing all of this type of sciencey stuff. However working with the Forest Service is superior, and I am fairly new, so we’ll see. I am younger. I can undoubtedly inform you that two years in the past, I did not assume that I might be a firefighter.

PS: Inform me the story of the way you truly fell into it. Was it only a acutely aware determination the place you awoke at some point or what occurred?
BM: Nicely, I used to be initially planning to go to vet faculty. Once I was in school, I used to be a pre-vet main. And we had — I feel it was sophomore yr — we needed to provide you with a analysis challenge. It was actually open-ended, however needed to be a capstone, culminating challenge. Type of on a whim, I discovered a zoo in Belize that had a jaguar rehabilitation program. And I contacted them and stated, “I need to be an intern. I need to come right here for Summer time and work as a zookeeper. And I need to work with the jaguars.” So I went there for my analysis challenge. And simply type of climbing across the jungle, I noticed I actually, actually, actually needed to work outdoors. I needed to work in conservation, with wild animals, and hike for a dwelling. And so I type of modified paths proper then and there and did much more.

I went again to Belize a pair extra occasions. And later, once I was working for AmeriCorps, I labored in eight totally different parks, and one among our jobs was doing all of the managed burnings — all of the prescribed burning. I made a decision, “Hey, that is fairly neat. I like hearth. I like this facet of the job.” And I truly moved to Arizona earlier than I even obtained my first hearth job. I simply sort of crossed my fingers, utilized, and moved.

PS: Have been your loved ones and associates like, “What are you doing?” Or have been they tremendous supportive?
BM: I’ve all the time type of have been the wild baby in my household, the one which moved across the bunch and traveled a bunch. So once I advised my household that I used to be shifting to Arizona, my mother and father have been clearly slightly bummed out. They stay in Virginia. However my sister stated, “Hey, we truthfully thought you have been going to inform us you are shifting to South America, so that is sort of OK. Arizona’s superb. We thought you have been shifting to Belize.”

PS: So for those who might talk one factor to POPSUGAR readers, what wouldn’t it be?
BM: I feel we should always undoubtedly do a greater job of teaching the general public on what we’re doing, once we do these managed burns or what we’re doing once we’re creating gasoline breaks, making an attempt to scale back the quantity of gasoline round communities. And once I say gasoline, we name something that may burn gasoline. So timber are gasoline. Lifeless grass is gasoline. Bushes are gasoline. Once we do these gasoline-discount tasks, both you are burning it or slicing it, one thing like that. We’re actually making an attempt to make it in order that when the hearth does come by way of — and it all the time does — that it does not have a lot gasoline that it turns into catastrophic. Perhaps it is simply schooling, individuals realizing that fireplace is actually good for the panorama in some areas. Some pine timber will not regenerate and develop new pine timber till hearth comes via. They usually’re tailored for that. It is simply when you’ve gotten means an excessive amount of gasoline in a single space that does not naturally see hearth or introducing hearth from people beginning it, that is when the timber burn down. And you then get these large, devastating forest fires. However somewhat hearth is basically good.

Individuals love us once we’re preventing wildfire, they usually hate us once we’re doing these managed burns. They see smoke within the air, however it simply comes right down to understanding what we’re doing. Most individuals are nonetheless fairly satisfied — I am not even positive my mother and father know what I do. They all the time say, “OK. Watch out. Do not leap out of any airplanes.” However each elements are essential, and I might like to teach individuals on that extra.

Picture Supply: Bailey McDade

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