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Volume 15, Issue 11
November 2017


First-time firefighter aims to keep green from turning black
By Shae Galloway

[Ed. note: Cedar Mill resident Shae Galloway, 21, answered Glenn Segal’s call this spring to be part of the Tom Fery fire crew, which fought several fires in the Northwest this summer. A University of Oregon journalism student, he wrote this account of working on the fire crew for the Cedar Mill News.]

So, there I was, crammed into a van full of sweaty guys and on my way to a fire that had sparked up from a thunderstorm the night before. As we drove north from Twin Falls, Idaho, I started to see a plume of smoke rising from the valley ahead. I felt a knot form in my stomach as I grasped the intensity of the situation. This was my first actual fire (the Martin Canyon fire), and I honestly didn’t quite know what to expect. The classic “What have I gotten myself into?” line went through my head as our van came to a stop in front of what can only be described as a burning mountain.

Shae Galloway and the Tom Fery fire crew. He is sixth from right, standing behind crew boss Glenn Segal (white helmet).
Shae Galloway and the Tom Fery fire crew. He is sixth from right, standing behind crew boss Glenn Segal (white helmet).

I was just a guy who loved the outdoors and needed a way to pay my college tuition. Surely I had underestimated this job as a wildland firefighter. As soon as we started piling out of the van, the smell of scorched sagebrush and ash hit me. The second thing I noticed was the heat. I could feel it radiating upon me like a second sun. We didn’t get right up next to the flames that day, but there were days where it felt like I was in an oven from the intensity of the flames.

We worked through the night and well into the next morning on rough terrain. The fire had burned the hillside, leaving only black ground and the roots of sagebrush. A line had been dug into the face of a huge, steep butte. This line was extremely important because it separated the unburned and the burned territory, or as we would call it the green from the black. We were posted there to make sure the fire didn’t spread into the green, which would put the small town of Bellevue, Idaho, a few miles to the west, in danger.

We had to work at night because fires can't be left unattended. When we were assigned night shift, we had two options for sleeping during the day. We could sleep in our tents, although it was often too hot for that, or there were often mobile sleepers. The mobile sleepers were really nice because they were air conditioned, dark, quiet and pretty comfy.

Night work was only interrupted by sounds of shovels, pulaskies, and the occasional chainsaw somewhere in the darkness. There were many hot spots in the ground left in the wake of the fire. Left unextinguished, they could easily flare up again or have sparks blow over into the green once the wind picked up. The work became quite meditative at a certain point.

At first, I was kind of nervous about my crew. I was glad to have Glenn as a crew boss, but a lot of the guys on my crew seemed very different from the people I am usually around. They all seemed experienced and used to this kind of work. However, after spending time with this group of guys I learned that our differences weren't what defined our relationships. I really connected with my crew because we all respected each other's work ethic and common goal to protect the forest. 

Although this summer I worked harder than I ever have before, it was incredibly satisfying work. The fact that we are saving land, wildlife, towns and, potentially, lives is obviously a big reason for this feeling; however, it was a pleasant surprise to see the amount of appreciation people would show us. Driving into different towns we would often see signs people had written thanking us for our service. It motivated us and made our work feel valued. One night in camp, a family came to visit our crew to deliver some sweet bread they had been baking for us.

I’m extremely happy to have challenged myself to try something like this. Working in the great outdoors and doing hard work with your hands really strengthens you. It gave me confidence because I realized what I was actually able to accomplish with the right goals set in mind.   

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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
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Portland, Oregon 97291
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