Durango Firefighter/EMT Looks Back on Wildland Firefighter Career

8/25/2021

Adrienne Miller of the Durango Fire Protection District recounts her career as a Wildland Firefighter in California and Colorado and discusses the demands of this dangerous profession. Sponsored by Bank of the San Juans

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Wildland firefighters are kind of a special breed.

AD Miller began fighting forest fires in 2015 on a hand crew with the Forest Service in California. After two seasons with the Durango Wildland Crew, she is now a structural firefighter with the Durango Fire Protection District.

The day of a firefighter is, it's always different. That's the kind of the beauty of it. The same with structure, you never know what you're going to get. As a crew, you go over weather, you go over six minutes of safety, and then you start your day, depending on what assignment you're given. So there's severity, or detail, so that's when a different agency hires you on to basically help cover their district if they're in a high fire danger. And then there's town crew, or local crew, and we always have one engine that is available in town at all times. And then there's the fire assignment that everyone wants to do. You're gone for 14 to 21 days, and you don't know if it's going to be day or night until you get there. You don't know how long it's going to be. And it could be cutting line, laying hose line, structure protection. Do your work for the day, eat when you can, and then you do a debrief with the entire division afterwards, and talk about what needs to be passed on the next crews. Then you go back to camp, and you shower, if there's showers, eat dinner, and hang out, go to bed, wake up and do it again. Every member on Durango Fire is wildland certified. Some of our wildland firefighters are volunteers on the off season, and so they do a lot of extra, advanced classes on weather, fire behavior, fuels, topography. They hike a lot, and on top of it, they have to be ready to respond at any time of any day for as long as they're needed. Even on their off days, they have to stay within two hours, be in cell service, because you're on call. So you don't really have a day off. And on top of it, there's a lot more fires now, and a whole lot more homes being built out in the mountains, so it just requires that many more firefighters to be available at any given time.

While not everyone understands the mindset of firefighters like AD Miller, the value of their hard work and dedication is indisputable.

I ended up getting a lot more out of it than what drew me to it. Obviously, I went into firefighting, a big part of it was to help people, make a difference, but honestly when it came to wildland, I loved the idea of going and hiking and playing in the mountains, and doing intense work next to a massive fire, which I know sounds really weird to a lot of people, but that's why we have wildland firefighters, because they like it. Helping protect entire communities is kind of a cool feeling. You know, there's 100, sometimes thousands of people working on one fire, so to be one small piece to that big old puzzle is kind of neat to see, as you're watching the fire become contained, or watch the work that you're doing actually making a difference.

There's a certain type of person that thrives in Colorado: strong, independent, fierce. We should know, we were born here. Bank of the San Juans: one big happy little bank.

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