By: Nicholas Cox
My first (big) felled tree during chainsaw training“Forest fires!? That’s really dangerous, Nick. You do know you need to be specially trained to do that?”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“Well, you need special equipment, too, ya know.”
“You sure do.”
“You just better be safe, Nick.”
“Tell you what, Mom, I’ll have them give you a call so you can make sure everything checks out.”
Over dinner this past Sunday, I had the chance to share with my parents a bit about what I’ve been up to since starting as a crew member on the St. Paul field crew. The preceding was the exchange I had with my mother upon reaching the topic of wildland fire. My mother has always been very concerned with my well-being. This was extremely helpful as a child; I was never the kid who forgot their snowsuit in elementary school, never one of the poor saps sentenced to indoor recess with no parole while everyone else was building snow kingdoms and bombarding girls with snowballs.
The Conservation Corps is also very concerned with my well-being. Less “Put on a jacket, it’s cold out,” and more “Don’t cut your leg off with that chainsaw.” The Corps takes safety and preparedness extremely seriously. Upon joining the Corps, each member is issued a full suite of personal protective equipment (PPE) that we will use through the rest of the year including task-specific hardhats, ear protection, multiple pairs of safety glasses, Kevlar-lined boots, chainsaw chaps, and gloves. Even better, the gloves and boots fit, the chaps are new, and prescription safety glasses are an option.
PPE is worn at all times, and is issued as a last line of defense. We’ve spent weeks in specialized training courses which all but guarantee that this last line of defense should never be tested. Over the last month, we’ve been given three days of chainsaw training and field instruction, a defensive driving course, multiple reviews of herbicide safety, first-aid and CPR training, and a weeklong course to obtain our wildland firefighter credentials. Beyond these formal trainings, site-specific safety and preparedness are topics covered within crews for each project. Should an accident occur, we have emergency response plans prepared for each work site and crew leaders are experienced and trained in wilderness first-aid.
You can stop worrying, Mom. Even as a demonstrably responsible, 25-year-old man, I really do appreciate your reminders to wear a hat, even though I am aware that it’s cold outside in January in Minnesota; and I will admit that you’ve saved me from a toilet paper-less camping trip at least once. But please rest assured that I will not be charging a forest fire in shorts with a squirt gun, at least not while I’m working for the Conservation Corps.
Fun Field Find
In case you ever find yourself needing to extinguish a bonfire in the winter, here’s a fun tip!
Kirstin Silva and Mike excited about the snowball fire extinguisher..
After burning a pile of freshly cut buckthorn, lilac, and honeysuckle at Interstate Park in Taylor’s Falls, we needed to extinguish the fire before we could safely leave the area. Rather than spend a bunch of time and energy throwing snow on the embers one shovel-full at a time, we decided to roll a giant snowball. It turned out to be a fantastic way to get a whole bunch of snow onto the fire in a short amount of time, as well as an educational experience for fellow crew member Bob, for whom this was a first. Growing up in Southern Illinois, Bob assumed the concept of snowballs gaining mass as they rolled down hills was made up for cartoons. While this cartoon depiction was based in real-life, please do your research before attempting other cartoon-based shenanigans.
Back to the tip. Once the snowball was on top of the fire, we smashed it with shovels and rakes then stirred the snow into the embers, safely extinguishing the fire and ending the work week on a high note.