November 2002 (Lassen Volcanic National Park): I love this photo of my Type II hand crew on the Hole Prescribed Burn at Lassen Volcanic National Park. I didn’t take this shot but what you can’t see is I’m leading this crew to another assignment on the burn. The importance of this photo to me is the discipline the crew shows. They are spaced out, tools by their side, PPE in tact, and ready to work. A few days earlier this photo would’ve looked like a disaster.
I’d arrived at Lassen Volcanic National Park just a few weeks earlier to take new position as the Assistant Fire Engine Operator on Engine 33. The Manzanita Lake Guard Station (where I was assigned during the summer on Engine 33) was closed for the season and I was working from the Park Headquarters Mineral Fire Station. Our fall project was preparing and executing the Hole Prescribed Burn in the park. I was assigned to our Type II hand crew where Phil Monsanto was the Crew Boss and I was a Squad Boss. When the time came to break out the drip torches and ignite the place Phil would take another assignment on the Burn and I’d take charge of the troops.
Prior to moving to Lassen I had just spent a couple of months with the Vale Hotshot crew out of Vale, Oregon. Hotshot Crews are Type I Hand Crews and are always put on the front fire lines to contain wildfires. They work as a team, remain disciplined, follow orders, and carry a bit of ego (why not, you’re a freakin’ hotshot). These traits help get the job done safely and effectively.
Well, on the first day of the Hole Burn generally the crew was awesome. Of course I had a few folks who just plain didn’t get it (Not you Bruce…no worries). They were new to firefighting and this crew. Throughout the summer they were seasonal National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers. The end of season was over for them but because they had a Red Card (meaning they were qualified to be on the fire line) and we had funds to bring them on for a few weeks so they were now part of the crew. The issue was they didn’t understand how to work as a team on the fire line, they didn’t follow orders well, were lazy, and were a “Watch Out” situation putting all the crew at risk.
Well I kept at it with them. I expected the Crew to communicate down the line, watch spacing, walk with tools down by your side, and other firefighting tactics that keep wildland firefighters safe on the line. My persistance paid off because I can spot those three seasonal park rangers in this photo. They may not have liked what was going on (and I have no idea if they ever set foot on a fireline again) but they did became part of this Crew, even if it was for just a few days.
Summer 1996 (Yosemite National Park): Lacerated pupil. On the evening of June 12, my roommate Greg and friend Melissa were in Oakhurst doing our weekly shopping. At about 10pm, we received a page to return to Yosemite Valley to assist in an ongoing rescue operation on North Dome gully. A climber had slipped down the gully earlier in the evening after climbing Royal Arches. When he slipped a rock dislodged from above and slammed on his left arm leaving him a compound fracture. He was losing blood and not able to descend on his own. I arrived on scene about 12:30am to assist in the lowering operation. Here is what I wrote in my journal:
“The lowering operation was consistent but slow. Lots of people falling, slipping rocks, sliding, lots of passovers. Around 300 feet from the bottom I was carrying the litter and sliding down a rock. As I went over the rock another rescuer went on the trail to the side of the rock. He stepped on a stick and it slammed me in the eye. I immediately fell and let go of the litter. I couldn’t see and had to be assisted down the hill.”
At the bottom, I joined the patient in the ambulance and we were both driven to the Yosemite hospital. The doctor was able to clean a lot of my injury but sent me to an eye specialist in Modesto for further examination. The specialist, Dr. Guido, concluded that I had a lacerated pupil but he wasn’t going to stitch it for fear it would scar and impair my vision. As a result I was driven to see him every day for two weeks straight just so he could see if any liquid was being released. I wore the bandage the entire time and went on light duty. I did fully recover from the incident and completed my summer on the Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue team.
This photo says it all about where my nickname in Boy Kicks Girl came from. After Kevin saw me with the bandage, he immediately named me “One Eyed Brett”.
September 2004 (Sarahart, Armenia): This is one of our favorite photos from our time in the Peace Corps. The location is high up in the mountains above Sarahart (Alaverdi), located in northern Armenia. The view of the photo is looking northeast along the Debed River valley toward Azerbaijan.
During this time in our Peace Corps service, we were living with our first host family in Sarahart. The apartment was small, but generally offered enough room for all five of us. On rainy days when it was difficult for anyone to spend quality time outside and our host father would decide to smoke inside the house rather than near a window, the apartment became unbareable and we needed to get out. This was one of those days.
Our host parents were taken back as they saw us putting on rain gear and loading our pack with food. They asked us, “Where are you going in this weather?” To their astonishment we stated that we were going for a hike in the mountains. They reminded us that it was raining and cold, but having done plenty of hiking in the cold and rain back in the states, we headed out.
We followed a worn rutted road outside of town for a couple miles. Along the way we passed a home along the hillside with a ferocious dog. We cautiously approached the house with stones in hand in case we needed to throw them at the dog. The dog maintained his distance and stayed in the yard. We continued on and passed a tractor and truck with five men in the back heading back down the mountain. It was loaded with wood for the winter. The looks on their faces were of amazement, either at seeing us hiking, seeing us hiking in the weather, or seeing Laura out in the mountains. A little while later we peaked out on a beautfiul ridge that provide the view seen in this photo. The rain had stopped by now and the clouds lifted to provide a beautiful view down the valley. We ate our hatz (bread) and paneer (cheese), drank mango juice and water, and headed back home as the rain turned into hail.
The views of the debed river valley provided us a reminder of the beauty found in the natural landscape of Armenia, sometimes not often seen when our daily views were that of deforestation, pollution, and erosion. From up on top of this ridge, everything seemed alright!
Story Behind The Picture (New Feature on our Website): August 2001. Spokane, Washington. This is the first photo we took together.
Laura and I met on July 30, 2001 at her cousin Missy’s wedding in Burns, Oregon (where I was living at the time). We talked, danced, and at the end of the night we exchanged phone numbers. The next morning she went on her way to Newberg, Oregon where she was living for the summer. We talked on the phone for weeks waiting for a time where I could get away from firefighting and visit her. August was a busy time for firefighters and it wasn’t until the end of the month that I was able to get a couple days off, just in time for her to head back to Spokane, Washington to start her last year of college.
When we both decided to meet in Pendleton and drive to Spokane in one car, I didn’t think about the current wildfires on the Umatilla National Forest my drive would intersect on my way to Pendleton. Needless to say, the trip that should have landed me in Pendleton around 10pm got me there about 1:30am. I was detoured through parts of eastern Oregon I didn’t know existed. Since neither of us had cell phones, I stopped to make pay phone calls to her parents on a couple occasions to tell them that if Laura is wondering where I’m at, I’m still on my way. When I arrived at our designated spot of Burger King on the outskirts of southern Pendleton, she was asleep in her car. I tapped on the window and woke her up. Later on, we would both talk about how we really couldn’t remember exactly what the other looked like because we had met for such a brief time a month earlier. Of course upon laying eyes on each other again, we knew the other was pretty damn hot/sexy, depending on who your’re speaking with. Together we made the 3 hour drive north to Spokane.
We rarely slept those two days because of the little time we had. We explored Spokane, talked into the wee hours of the morning, and spent time hiking. It was during our hike at a local park that we took the picture featured on this post.
After she drove me back the 3 hours to my car in Pendleton, we said goodbyes in hopes of seeing each other soon. All the way home I thought of Laura and her beautiful smile, the engaging conversations, and her wonderful kiss. As the stars sparkled overhead and I was lost in thought about her, I took out a deer 10 minutes from town. Unfortunately the deer didn’t make it and the car was replaced two weeks later, but I found my future wife.
Read more about our chance encounter on our Family page.