Embers of Memories

Published at: The Anchorage Press

On the front lines of fire in Alaska

I miss fire. Not the danger of the job, but the adrenaline rush and excitement of being in the firefighting world. In summers such as this, when it seems all of Alaska is burning, I still get that ‘missing out’ feeling.

So far this summer’s statistics are stark and brutal with homes lost and the harsh reality of people facing sudden loss. Alaska’s wildfire season is worsening, with over 300 fires keeping thousands of responders busy. Firefighters have been injured from bears and other hazards, but thankfully so far no lives have been lost. This brings back memories.

Coming from Montana, I was used to forest fires. I worked as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, Montana in the early ‘80s before moving to Alaska to work for The Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1986, BLM started the Fire Familiarization Program (FFP) to educate future land managers on what it takes to manage a fire program. Twelve of us pencil pushers were selected and labeled the FFP crew.  We were excused from our normal jobs to work for the Alaska Fire Service (AFS) in Fairbanks.

After completing two weeks of fire training at AFS, I worked to pass my ‘step test,’ a measurement of cardio fitness required for all firefighters. If I didn’t pass the step test, I wouldn’t get my ‘red card,’ to qualify me for fire duty. During lunch I ran laps around the Park Strip in Anchorage like a wild woman and pumped iron in our garage in Spenard.

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Written by Lois Paige Simenson

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