Bro Shambo for a Helicopter Ride

Brent has his first helicopter ride and a couple of odd interactions with the infamous Chinstrap.

When we arrived on the fire the next day, our crew was informed by Division that some of us would be taken by helicopter to the the top of section Zulu in order to do some “seeding”. This entails spreading grass seed along the fire-line that the dozer had cleared. The purpose of this is both aesthetic (no ugly scar along the landscape when the grass around the dozer-line grows back) and environmental (plants prevent erosion).

Everyone wanted to ride in the helicopter, but only eight of us were needed. The fairest way we could think to settle this was single elimination Rock Paper Scissors. I made short work of one bloke, which brought me face to face with my pal Tony. Our first throw was a tie: two scissors. I anticipated him trying to trip me up by repeating scissors, and I was right. I defeated him with rock. “Fuck you”, he said, good-naturedly.

As the victorious eight waited in the flight area, the squad bosses reminisced loudly and fondly about past fires. Either it was all they had in common with one another or it was their way of excluding others and displaying their superior levels of firefighting experience. Or they just live for this shit and like going over it with the people who were there with them.

One of the helicopter pilots gave us a briefing. “Always go around the front of the helicopter…” He took our weights and broke us into two flight groups accordingly. I was in the first group. We were instructed to button our shirts all the way to the top, pop our collars, and fasten our chinstraps. Earplugs were pushed in as the pilot fired up the engine. The grass began wiggling and pulsing. At the co-pilot’s signal, I made my crouched scamper under the blades and into the fuselage. I buckled up and waited for the others to join.

It was an exhilarating ten minute flight. I have been in my share of planes, but the big difference is that in a helicopter, you can hover. Staying in one place in the air and regarding both my surroundings and the ground from a fixed point was something I’d never experienced.

What followed the thrilling flight was the tedious task of spreading seed slowly down the mountain. I had a simple, jack-in-the-box like contraption strapped to the front of my chest for spreading the seeds. I twirled a handle on the side of the box and the seeds fanned out in front of me. I followed another seed spreader like a two man marching band and we zig-zagged along the uneven terrain. Action Jackson followed us, carrying multiple sacks of seed on his shoulders.

It was hot, dull work, but within two hours we were at our pickup point. We had to wait for the other seed spreaders, who were coming from all different directions. I found a truck with a vacant seat and DJed for a while using someone’s portable speaker. Hours went by.

I found myself talking to Chinstrap, who explained his small business idea, something he started in high school. It was a clothing line called “DYKYB”. He rattled off the convoluted acronym with easy familiarity. “It stands for ‘Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful’,” he told me. The whole business sounded rather insufferable so once I had listened for a polite enough amount of time I excused myself for a piss.

The sun was going down over the dirt hills so I popped the tailgate down and sat to watch. I sang quietly to myself, sifting through some songs I know all of the words to. I felt quiet and peaceful, secure in the knowledge that I was getting off this mountain today for good, or so I thought. It was rumored to be our last day. One of the more mild-mannered (and thus likable) dudes, Drago, joined me on the tailgate. I kept singing until I couldn’t think of a song. We sat in silence until it was time to head back to camp.

We all cleaned out our packs after dinner and had a wrap-up speech from the crew boss. One of the more eager rookies shared how great he thought the bosses were. I heard one of the more savvy guys say, under his breath, “At least let them bend over before you kiss their ass…god damn.” That made me smile. This rookie’s public suck up was mocked by our table all through dinner.

There was only one outdoor outlet in the elementary school grounds. Tony and I seemed to be the only ones who had found it. After dinner you could often find us sitting together, backs against the brick, charging our phones and texting our girls.

On my way back to my tent, I spotted ol’ Chinstrap seated at a picnic table in the covered area. It was past 11pm. Just about every firefighter was in bed, getting some much needed sleep before the 5am wakeup. This must be why he was so tired all of the time. One of the crew’s favorite past times was to talk shit about Chinstrap while he napped during the day (which was exceedingly often), right in front of his pathetic, sleeping form. He had two books open in front of him.

“What you reading?”

“Ye old bibliotecha.”

I guessed what he meant but I respond, “The library?” because “bibliotheque” means library in French. In any case I want to subtly expose his stupidity for my own amusement.

“It’s the bible.”

“Hmm. Finding any answers?”

He reads off some psalm that I didn’t bother to remember because it did nothing for me. His second book was a spiral notepad. He was taking notes on the bible. Go figure.