ELKO — Ready for a career change? You are in luck. You can become a member of the 2018 Ruby Mountain Hotshot crew.
To prepare you, I talked to Jerry Drazinski, Hotshot crew superintendent; and Chris Henry, assistant superintendent, about their 2017 season. They had a busy wildfire season, but no worse than other busy years. The 20-member crew is stationed in Elko but was assigned to fight 10 different fires in Nevada, Idaho and Montana.
The crew, which includes two women, spent 75 days on these fires, between June 23 and Sept. 18. Their fire season ended only because of the recent rain and snow events.
Crew members came from all over the United States to join this crew. Their season began May 1 and, for most, ended on Sept. 29.
Before the wildfire season got going, they spent 27 days in training. Their work is extremely labor intensive in difficult and dangerous conditions, digging fire lines and cutting down trees and brush. When not actively fighting fires, they are re-furbishing equipment and preparing for the next fire.
When on a fire, they work 14- to 16-hour days doing back-breaking work. A beginning crew member may earn $30,000-$40,000 for five months’ work. Off-fire, they work 40-hour weeks involving training but also field work for the BLM and the community. This May, the crew helped build bike trails at SnoBowl. Jerry said next season they hope to do more community work.
They are seasonal workers. During the off-season, some find other work, including government agencies. As Jerry said, for a single, 20-something person, this may be their yearly wage. They may spend the rest of the year traveling.
When assigned to a fire, they receive a mandatory two days off after 14 days. Often, this ends their assignment at that fire and they return to Elko to take their two days off, before being assigned to a different fire.
The 14 days do not count travel time to and from a fire. Plus, when the crew returns to Elko, they must first prepare all gear to be ready for the next fire before getting their days off.
Typically, they work 16-18 days before taking two days off. During these days off, they often need to re-furbish their personal gear, they may visit friends and family, and they may prepare themselves mentally by getting away from the rest of the crew for a while.
They also have non-mandatory days off, and Chris recalls having four such days this season. On these days off, they must be able to return to their base within an hour and a half in case they get called out for another fire.
Studies show that working a fire requires taking in about 10,000 calories each day and most crew members lose 10-15 pounds during the season. They are abundantly and well fed during fires.
They may spend the nights at fire camps with a food service, although both men told me they would rather sleep in spike camps near the fires. It is better to trade travel time to and from fire camps for more sleep. Also, these spike camps are usually more pleasant than the noisier fire camps. They typically sleep in sleeping bags placed on tarps. Tents are set up only in case of rain. They want to be able to break camp quickly and get back to work.
At spike camps, food may be delivered to them, but occasionally their meals consist of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). Often, even after a large meal, crew members may carry an MRE with them during the day to provide even more food.
The crew may be stationed in Elko, but they, along with 100 other hotshot crews, are a national wildfire resource. They spent this year close to home but when needed, they may be sent anywhere in the United States.
Job announcements will be posted this November. This could be your chance to make a career change.