Firefighter and paramedic Charlie Bowman usually spends his days fighting flames in Dayton, Nevada, for the Central Lyon County Fire Protection District. When the Mount Charleston fire, which burned more than 28,000 acres after starting with a lightning strike on July 1, began to rage, Bowman and his crew headed 400 miles south to join more than 800 people battling the flames.
With the fire now mostly contained, Bowman gave us a photographic tour of the gear he used to fight the fire and stay safe, before he and his crew hit the road home. On the way, they came a cross a “horrendous accident” in Beatty, Nevada, and had to cut three people out of two cars and put them on helicopters to receive medical treatment.
“If we hadn’t done the interview,” Bowman says, “we would have missed it.”
• Clothing Wildland gear, made with flame-resistant Nomex fiber, is lighter and easier to move in than the heavy layers firefighters traditionally wear.
• Helmet and goggles Made of lightweight plastic, this helmet is similar to a construction helmet, with added flame resistance.
• Boots These leather boots with Vibram soles cost about $400 and are made specifically for fighting fire on rough, hot terrain.
• Backpack Bowman’s pack weighs about 30 pounds, since he works off a fire engine. Hot shots and firefighters who don’t work off a truck can carry 50- to 60-pound packs to accommodate all their gear.
• Pulaski fire axe This specialized tool is good for cutting through roots and branches.
• Leather gloves
• Incident Response Pocket Guide This tiny tome covers the 10 standard orders and 18 watchout situations of firefighting, as well as topics like how to approach a helicopter, first aid information and hazmat guidelines.
• Fire shelter Basically a small, aluminized, insulated tent, everyone working in proximity to a fire must carry one of these emergency shelters in case they get stuck in a position where a fire is going to burn over them. “It’s pretty much your last-ditch effort to try to stay alive.”
• Snake bite kit Bowman often works in areas with rattlesnakes, so he carries this kit, which suctions to the wound and helps extract venom after a bite.
• Fuse (pronounced fusey) These are lit and used to burn off brush back to a fire line or to create a safety zone around firefighters by destroying potential fuel.
• Diagonal cutters For cutting—and occasionally repairing—fences. A lot of people put up barbed wire and chicken wire to keep animals in and people out, Bowman says, but “fire doesn’t stay inside the fence.”
• Snacks and chewing gum When Bowman works as a line medic he’ll sometimes throw an MRE (meal, ready-to-eat) into his pack. When he works off an engine, he usually packs peanuts or another snack to keep his energy up and in case he gets hungry.
• Water bottles