A moment for those heros – women and men – who run head on into fires to save us all – whether in city streets or in the wilderness. Focused, wise, and fearless. Thank you to all of you.
Unless you’ve witnessed the ferocious power of mother nature balancing her earth with fire, you can’t imagine the grief, shock, disbelief, panic, sadness, desperateness, and smallness you feel as you sit and watch and wait and pray that her fire will skip over your house. It’s the unthinkable: you might lose everything. It’s happened to the owners of 1600 homes burnt to the ground in two Northern California fires in the past week.
It happened to me several years ago. I was darn lucky. The fire halted 50 yards from my house. Many neighbors saw their homes reduced to rubble.
I remember the panic. The sheriff opened my front door and handed me a neon orange evacuation notice. I had 10 minutes. Then, the unimaginable: What to take with me?
They told me: grab family pictures, a pillow, a change of clothes, my wallet, keys, cell phone and charger, laptop and get out. I had 10 minutes. The scariest damn thing that’s ever happened to me.
Panicked, I bolted for my car. I was stopped short by a HOT SHOT, the equivalent of Navy Seals of fire fighters. In his big neon yellow jump suit, looking square-jawed and right out of central casting, he put his arm around me. His good looks aside, he offered words that changed my life: “We’ll take care of your house. We’re trained to win. Something else: this day will change your life and you’ll know forever what really counts. All those things in there? Just stuff. Now, leave here and be safe. You have us. We’ve got this one.”
I watched them battle for days. Each night they reported in to all of us, as we huddled together in the high school gym – waiting, terrified, praying and hoping.
Here are the life lessons I learned from them. They’re for all of us, everyday of our lives:
1. Be passionate about your work and believe that you will win. Agree on your course of action and focus on vehemently on it. Don’t let distractions pull you off course. Distractions can be fatal. Be filled with fervor to succeed – in conditions that would make the rest of us run in terror: wretchedly hot, burning winds; smothering smoke; a roar so loud you can’t hear your own screaming, ashes in your throat and face, and death pounding loudly at your door. Every step you take might save a life, and you keep going.
2. Take all the training you can, be the best you can be, and expect no reward in return. Always be at the top of your game, mentally and physically. Your reward is your best effort.
3. You can’t do it alone. No fire is contained by one hero. It takes the team. Respect and trust the hierarchy and leadership strategy. No second guessing when orders arrive. The fire doesn’t care about personal issues.
4. No time to regret the past. The fire moves too quickly to weep over past disappointments. Let it go. Look forward. Move on. You’ll get trapped and burn if you pause too long. You can debrief later to learn lessons.
5. Don’t quit until the whole job is done. Sloppy work not acceptable. If one spot is left burning, it will re-ignite.
6. Understand and respect your adversary. Learn what your adversary needs to survive. Know when to let the fire come to you. Know when to go after the fire.
7. Know when to quit. Know what is worth saving, and what is not.
God Bless Them. Every single one of them.