Politicians Continue to Treat Wildland Firefighters Like Naive Children.
The cycle is apparent now.
I have been involved in some of the most interesting conversations with politicians across the Nation. Whether it’s a sit down meeting with Lieutenant Governors, lunch with city council members, or talking to Mayors… one thing remains clear. They really don’t understand our line of work. I’ve found that instead of admitting that they don’t understand what our world looks like they turn to soft expressions of gratitude that are often cheap and disingenuous.
What I find even more frustrating and disrespectful is when they say things like “we’ll get something done for you” or, “my opponent doesn’t have a plan like I do”. Then I see them still in office 4 years later still shaking hands of firefighters collecting a plate of powdered eggs and Kielbasa. We hear their statements made to tired Forestry Techs like “Something’s gotta change, we’re working hard for you”. However, after a victory tour at a fire camp and a quick stump speech at the community fire meeting they go back to DC or the State House to argue about anything but firefighter compensation and wellness.
One of the most eye opening conversations I’ve had took place over brunch. Myself and a Foreman from another Hotshot crew went out to grab some steak and eggs from a quaint little basement café. It was the off season so there was no rush and we slowly sipped our pour over coffee while people watching and listening to the chatter around us. The table directly across from us was a group of politicians discussing wildfire and the issues they thought were most important to us.
As I set my coffee down and looked up at my buddy, he stared suspiciously knowing I was about to join the conversation. I scooted my chair towards the table of elected officials and introduced myself. They were ecstatic to be talking to an individual who worked at the top of the operational wildfire realm. They quickly started telling me what they could do for me and what I should do to make things better. It was everything I had heard before, canned political promises molded together to fit the a firefighter narrative. We discussed fire shelters, food, wages, and it was clear they were trying to show me they understood the wildfire environment. Then the bombshell happened. They offered to get me a $1 million grant for… emergency evacuation jetpacks. No joke.
I asked these assumed intelligent elected officials to explain to me how this would work. They were delighted to explain to me that we should deploy jetpacks to crews for emergency reasons and use them as “lookout” tools. Not only did hey believe this was a viable option, they were certain they could get the grant approved and would gladly promote their work involved in helping. I looked over at my friend who was still drinking his coffee and staying silent. It was obvious to me that he had all sorts of things to say but clearly had a better holster on his tongue than myself.
I started my line of questioning with a softball quip. “How much do these jetpacks weigh?” They all looked at each other and quickly decided that we could have jetpack “caches” so we wouldn’t
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