Sunday, March 16, 2008

Last week on the road

This past week finished up my 3 week series of training classes for work. I was in Helena taking a class called "Introduction to Incident Information." Basically, I was learning how to be an Information Officer for wildfires (or other major disasters).

While dealing with fires isn't a primary responsibility of my job, I do work for a land-owning agency, so when we have a bad fire season like we did last year, anyone and everyone who can help is asked to do so. It's not required, but strongly suggested, that all employees have some fire qualifications. Plus, it's the only time that I can get overtime pay. Last year I was able to fully fund my trip to NC for the Outer Banks Half Marathon on overtime pay from fires.

There are lots of different jobs within the fire world. Everyone's familiar with the sooty, exhausted firefighter in the yellow shirt and green pants who's been swinging a pulaski all day long. I am fully qualified to do that, and to assist in operating an engine, laying out water hoses, etc. But honestly, that stuff sucks. I really don't like wearing long sleeves and long pants and 8" leather boots in 95 degree weather with nothing but smoky air to breathe. As you should know by now, it's not that I'm opposed to hard work. Heck, if it was a 65 degree day with clear skies, I'd be all excited to get a great upper body workout from digging fire line. But I hate heat. And smoke. So I decided to look towards other roles in the fire world...

So what other roles are there? First, someone has to be the head honcho in charge. This person is called the Incident Commander, or IC. For a small fire, the IC could be a mid-level supervisor on a local crew. As fires become more complex-- bigger in acreage, in tough terrain, threatening property, etc-- an incident managment team will most likely be brought in, a fire camp set up, and more resources (people & equipment) brought in to help. The IC oversees all operations and is basically in charge of coming up with the overall objectives. But that person has several folks working under him/her:

Someone has to feed those firefighters, and make sure they have the tools they need, and that there are showers available, and arrange to get their tires fixed when they puncture one. All those duties are part of Logistics. Then there's the Planning Section-- how do we actually hope to accomplish our mission? how many people do we need to go when and where and do what? do we need helicopters? if so, how many? Planning folks then talk to Operations people. These are the ones that actually get the work done, that are out on the ground directing the yellow shirts where to go and what to do. They also manage the air show. Then there's Finance, which is responsible for paying all these people, and for dealing with claims, and figuring up daily figures of the cost of fighting the fire. There's also a Safety officer who's looking out to make sure the operations are being conducted safely, that everyone wears their personal protective equipment, etc. Dispatchers are needed to call people up and ask them to come help, as well as help man the radio traffic and keep track of what's going on. And most of the time a large incident will have a Liason officer who helps the fire management team stay in contact with local agencies, such as the sheriff's office, volunteer fire department, and other landowners. Finally, someone needs to take care of letting everyone know what the heck is going on. That's the role of the Information officer(s). Information is responsible for organizing public meetings, providing interviews and tours for the media, writing press releases, putting up information boards in communities near the fire, etc.
That's what I'm most interested in doing-- talking, not digging. So in training last week I was learning to write press releases and fact sheets, I practiced giving phone and tv interviews (our instructors taped us and then played it back to critique us), we ran through a simulation exercise where we had to plan a town meeting, deal with concerned citizens who thought their house was being burned, coordinate with the Sheriff's office about evacuation notices, etc. It was a good class, and I look forward to being able to get some real-world practice later this summer.

In the meantime, I'll just stick with my regular pay check, and appreciate the free time I have to work out and play. And keep myself in shape enough to be able to go out and dig line if I have to! To that end, here's a re-cap of my stab at training this week:

Sunday: Tempo run in Frenchtown (45 min-- 20 min at ~90% max heart rate)
Monday: afternoon easy run exploring Helena (45 min)
Tuesday: 20 min cycle and 30 min strength (squats, lunges, pushup pyramind) in morning; 30 min cruise run with Allison in afternoon (the first time we've run together in a while-- it was great to have the company!)
Wednesday: 20 min elliptical and Sage's yoga podcasts in the morning (check them out!); 25 min easy run in afternoon (and then a most excellent Thai dinner-- if you're ever in Helena, don't miss Toi's Thai restaurant-- one of the best meals I've had in a long time!)
Thursday: 30 minute easy run with 10 min lunge intervals in afternoon
Friday: 30 minute bike ride and yoga in evening
Saturday & Sunday: rest/cross-training, working with Jim around the ranch
Total- 6 hrs: RUN- 2 hr 25 min; BIKE- 50 min; SWIM- 0 min; STRENGTH/YOGA- 1 hr 25 min; OTHER- 20 min elliptical

I'm looking forward to being back to my normal work week and workout routine starting tomorrow. And to getting back in the pool, since I didn't have an opportunity to swim this past week. But it was good to get some extra running time in, as I'll be doing my first running race of the season in just a few weeks. I'll be digging through a few more tempo runs and speed sessions between now and then, and also trying to shed some of the beer pounds I'm sure I've put on in the past few weeks. (not looking forward to this Friday's Weigh-In)

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