Fire Camp: Stories from the fire-line

By Joseph Paglia
Special to the Sun

The men and women who put their lives on the line for our safety live in a world most have never seen. They work long hours in extreme conditions and when their shift ends they do not go home like most people do, they go back to a camp sometimes in very remote locations. Large incident camps are like small cities and are constructed in a day, these camps are placed in large camp grounds, parks, and sometimes even school parking lots.

These camps provide everything needed for our firefighters to be able to stay on scene and efficiently work the fire. Companies are hired to bring in what’s needed according to the situation and number of people involved in the fight. The equipment that these contractors supply to the firefighting efforts ranges widely.

The mobile kitchens are quite amazing they provide full service catering for sometimes thousands of people. The kitchen cooks a hot breakfast and dinner with vegetarian options available at every meal. Lunch is always a sack lunch that consists of a sandwich, a handful of snacks and energy bars, and a few ready to mix drink pouches.

Semi trailers that have been converted into sleeping quarters with up to 42 beds in each, aptly named mobile sleepers, are provided. They have controlled temperature and are kept dark 24 hrs a day, any time that a crew comes into camp and needs a cool dark place to sleep there is a bed ready and waiting. Not every firefighter likes them because of the small space available to each bed. Large tents are also set up with cots and an a.c. unit when necessary although many choose to skip both of those options and sleep in a small personal camp tent.

Showers are provided as-well, the line can get long when a large amount of crews get back to camp at the same time but it’s well worth the wait if you ask anyone in that line. The showers are always cleaned after each use bleached and then rinsed. The showers are similar to what you have at home with the exception that they are in a trailer and you’re not the only one showering. Each shower stall has a private dressing area. Shampoo and disposable towels are provided in case someone forgot to bring theirs.

Laundry service is also provided on site. These laundry units are always busy, imagine washing twenty five hundred people’s laundry. Yikes! Fire personnel drop off their bag of clothes and return twenty four hours later to pick up. The laundry service washes everything from nomex (fire resistant clothes) to personal clothing and even sleeping bags if needed.
These camps are built in a day and removed just as fast when the job is done. This is called the demob short for demobilization, that’s the day everyone goes home or is assigned directly to another fire.

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