Dynamite kills house fires but I don’t recommend doing it these days. You wouldn’t be popular. When Madrid was a mining town in those long ago days, water was so scarce that they couldn’t waste it on fighting fires. Instead they would blow up the homes near by, eliminating the fuel source (the wooden homes in this instance), and the fires would die out on their own.
I like fire. I’ll be honest; I’m drawn to flames. I used to breathe and juggle fire for a living in my twenties, not that I was very good mind you. Joining the Madrid Volunteer Fire District made sense to me though. That first Tuesday of the New Year, I walked into the Firehouse to check it out. Amid much teasing for ‘finally’ showing up, my friends took me around, talking to me about time commitments, the pumper tank, the engine, the wildland brush truck, and even the EMT vehicle. I held my training manual tight, and tried not to feel overwhelmed. This was the beginning. My curiosity kicked in luckily and I took the manual home and read it, not exactly understanding much, but I wanted to learn more. I came back each Tuesday. I researched online. I took home more books. Finally I got a tee shirt. I was hooked. I even signed up for the Wildland Firefighter Academy in Edgewood and drove there each weekend for over a month. Now, wildfire fighting appealed the most to me. The classes took place inside and out, we ran with packs, we dug trenches, we watched presentations about weather, fuels, and the environmental and geographic challenges to fighting and understanding wildland fires. I loved it.
Then one weekday, my beeper went off. I raced to the Firehouse and grabbed my bag of tools and gear, slipping on the coveralls and helmet as the Chief drove us all towards Golden, NM. Firefighters from all over the county arrived within minutes and by spreading out along the highway, we spotted the flames high in the mountains to the east of us. As a probationary member I wasn’t meant to do much of anything, but I was the only one with a compass, my dad’s as it happens. Clinton and I drove further down the road for me to take three different compass readings to triangulate the fire’s position. A decision was made to wait it out as the fire would probably only climb the mountain and then die out at the peak from lack of fuel. MVFD was sent home. I clutched my compass proudly.
So why did I leave the MVFD since I obviously liked it so much? It’s hard to explain. I came in with question of how could I help when these are my skills and challenges. Mixed messages answered me. A few members welcomed me with open arms, explaining the many roles and ways to help, from traffic control, to admin, and the academies and trainings offered free of charge. Another attitude expressed was that it is all or nothing if you join up, in the sense that you have to train as EMT, Firefighter and yes, Wildland Firefighter too. MVFD mostly deals with medical emergencies and accidents, not my thing considering my overactive imagination and queasy stomach. The Wildland Training I loved but my knees didn’t. All that hiking into mountains carrying shovels, picks, drinking water, and wearing all the gear, nope, I couldn’t do it. The Firefighter Academy wouldn’t work for me either, not being one for a militaristic teaching method, too much of an independent sensitive soul for that paradigm. So I quit instead.
However, I have all the respect in the world for those that embody the commitment and integrity of the Santa Fe County Fire and Rescue mission. Our Madrid team is small in number but amazing, putting out information to the community, fire safety tips, reminders to check our chimneys and CO detectors. They have saved so many lives of people I care for. They’re there for us. I trust them completely. It’s pretty incredible what they do for us.
For those interested in finding out more, turn up on a Tuesday, listen and learn, read the manuals, ask questions, and simply try it out. I’m glad I did. You’ll never know if it’s for you unless you just show up. Go on. Show up. Please, Madrid needs more firefighters, EMTs, and yes, behind the scenes assistance. You’ll get to wear a uniform. I like uniforms. And Harold liked being the Fire Dept. mascot.
As published in the Madrid Artists Quarterly. 10/2015