Man Down on the Fork Fire2
by Marc Hitson
A few days ago I came to get dinner after work and after it was already dark at fire camp and some medics were rolling in a gurney. A man was lying on the ground by the mess tent and surrounded with medics. I went through the line, got my food and went to sit down in the tent by the man on the ground. As I walked by I glanced at him and he looked dead with a glassy stare straight up. I sat at the table closest to him but with my back to the scene and as I sat down, the whole tent was staring at me. But not really, they were concerned about their fellow fire fighter.
I had the thought that maybe I was resented by the other firefighters for sitting there, but I was tired and so I continued. As I respectfully began to eat my dinner with my very best manners since I was being stared at, I tried to get a handle on the scene I found myself planted in the middle of. Obviously, this guy in trouble was a great person. Their faces, maybe 20 or 25 fire fighters, all with the same uniform, were shocked, alarmed and some reflected an expression of horror — it must have been a bad experience for everybody. I cannot imagine what took place as the fellow dropped from exhaustion just when he thought the long day was almost done and was trying to have dinner, but manliness can only take you so far.
One firefighter with his dread locks tied back in a ponytail had bright tear tracks down his soot stained face. Another in the back had his eyes closed and hands behind his head almost in an attitude of prayer. No talking, just anxious grief stricken looks. Not much eating was going on.
The man at the table next to me was well groomed, in a National Guard uniform and looked like an officer. He was eating alone and not one of the crew, but every time he looked up his eyes were stricken like he had just looked death in the face. There was absolutely no humor in the tent. After a while he got up and very quietly departed.
My dinner was good – fajitas and a nice dessert. I took my time. I reverently thought about the man down. I have had experience with death this year as my family cared for my mother while she was dying and on hospice. She seemed to want people around her and I thought that if I were that guy on the ground, dying, or dead already, I would want everyone to continue enjoying their dinner for my last few moments, not acting grief stricken, so that is what I did. I might have put up a prayer or two for him — he must have been quite a fellow.
As I was finishing my meal, the patient behind me must have been miraculously revived by the medics because everyone jumped up and started cheering
and one fellow yelled, “Jiti! Now you can get a bed finally.” They all whooshed out of there in one big happy suddenly garrulous group, following the gurney as it wheeled away.
The next morning we all got a big lecture at briefing about staying hydrated. It went something like this: “Drink your damn water!” “You can die”.
Today I went to breakfast early to have my oatmeal and bran flakes: the only thing my body can stand in the camp bfst menu lately. A man sat down by me and engaged in conversation quite pleasantly. He was a Division commander, and we got around to the topic of the medics. I mentioned the man down and it turns out the man was from this fellow’s division. They were a crew from Alaska where the heat is less of a factor, so they were not used to it California style. They had done a burn out that day and the man was an animal of a worker. He had been hiking up and down the very steep hill carrying 5 gallon cans of fuel – 1/3 gas and 2/3 diesel for the drip torches. He either must have had heat stroke and/or dehydration issues, which can kill a person in a bad way. I am glad he made it.