The best part of this class was the one-liners we heard from our Cat/Dozer operator. There was the one he used to describe a situation where the transport driver isn’t informed beforehand about the legitimacy of the road ahead: “You want us up there, while we’re down screwing the dog”. Or the situation where a Cat is being unloaded off the trailer, and momentarily passes over the trailer tires with the grousers, “and your shaking like a dog shitting peach seeds.” That’s what’s great about the old-timers in wildland fire. They’re so full of useful information that it’s almost a commonality for the teaching to be broken up with off-color comparisons, jokes, and a general shooting of the bull.
This was the third and last day of our class. For the last two days we went through every NWCG powerpoint slide for S-236, minus a few of the videos, because this is the government, and the government hasn’t heard of high speed internet. Having never had an HEQB training assignment, or much heavy equipment experience at all, there was a lot in the class to give me a foundation to build my understanding.
First off, before anything else, there has to be a contract in place for the piece of equipment you will be charged with “bossing”. The most common contract is called a Blanket Purchase Agreement contract. These are awarded nationally each year. The good thing about an IBPA is that it’s for an unspecified amount of time, meaning they can go from incident to incident. This contract is in contrast with the other, called an Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement. Being a former Painting Contractor, this talk of contracts and agreements wasn’t nearly as foreign as initially anticipated.
Okay, so “Farmer Joe” dozer operator is on the line, it’s my first HEQB trainee assignment, and I’m tasked with such and such. What should I have with me? Besides the obvious shit like MRE’s, water, fusees etc., there were a few items in the HEQB kit that caught my eye: Yellowbook for heavy equipment, fence pliers, and extra PPE. The Redbook aka fireline handbook is handy too (H-A-N-D Book equals HANDY). In it you’ll find a helpful table of dozer line construction estimates, to help you make judgement calls concerning objective feasibility.
Your kit is dialed. You have the ridiculous amount of forms, general messages, inspection checklists. You have your task book opened and have been given the assignment. You’re on the line with a crazy looking skidgine that’s been decorated by someone high on acid or bath salts. There’s a mural of a horse shooting fire from it’s nostrils. The name of the company is “Eat Your Lunch Wildland Firefighting”. The operator sees you approach and hops from the cab. He’s got a badass mullet and you hear Jethro Tull blasting from somewhere. What do you do?
One big takeaway for me was the acceptance of not having a mullet or a skidgine – as a wildland firefighter on a crew, we aren’t equipment operators and will never understand the equipment with the depth the operators do. That’s ok. I may not know the ins and outs of every piece of equipments’ capabilities but I can ask questions. I can interview the operator for loads of valuable information. They can give me enough information for me to make judgement calls, and better facilitate that equipment in the success of our given objectives. This goes big time for the transport of the equipment too. These are mighty machines, and they need huge trailers with huge trucks to get to-and-from the line. Remember what a pain it was parking the type 3 at a pizza joint on the way back from whatever fire? These trucks make an engine look like an Austin Mini Cooper. They all have their own quirks regarding capabilities, as do their operators.
As a HEQB it’s my responsibility to look out for the taxpayers dollar, fellow firefighters and the safety of everyone around. I don’t want to work with joe scumbag who’s somehow limped his dozer through inspection, or forged papers, or flew under the radar. Yeah, in a pinch you work with what you’ve got. To an extent. If the daily cost of a machine doesn’t seem to justify the ground covered, maybe ask yourself if you have an unreasonable objective or a POS piece of equipment . It may be both.
Today I asked our operator what his pet peeves were with HEQB and fellow operators. He hates people who say they’ve been doing this a long time and then repeatedly screw up on the line. He hates when other dozers get too close to him. He hates when a HEQB uses flagging that’s the same color as the surrounding vegetation. He hates arrogant assholes, people who get to close to the machine while its on. But he does like wildland firefighting, and thinks were the greatest people on the earth.
As we picked his brain under the first real hot sun of the year, I daydreamed about future assignments and where they would be. Maybe I’d get the operator who’s been doing it on fires for 30 years and all they need is a handshake and an introduction. But then again, maybe I get the fill in operator who has never driven their equipment before. It’s a lot like anything new or different, I think. You feel out the situation, test the waters, make some judgement calls and do your best.