In our chapter on bureaucracy, we note that self-interest is not the only motivation for government service. The recent deaths of firefighters in Arizona drive home the point that the danger may outweigh any financial compensation. In Outside magazine, Kyle Dickman writes about his experience as an embedded journalist in a team of firefighters:
It’s July 12, 2012, and I’m about to be sent to my first forest fire of the season. I arrived yesterday to meet up with the Tahoe Hotshots, an elite group of wilderness fire-fighters based about 120 miles east of here, in a Sierra foothills town called Camptonville. The Tahoe team is part of a sprawling, multifaceted army: 177 federal, state, and county crews who must try and stop a fast-moving, 17,000-acre blaze before it spreads into Stonyford. Known as the Mill Fire, it was started on July 7 by lost hikers and raced east through the Coast Range and theMendocino National Forest. Drought conditions and 60-mile-per-hour Pacific winds have fueled its advance; already, five buildings have burned on the edge of town.
The U.S. Forest Service, which usually runs the show when a big fire breaks out on federal land, has declared the Mill to be a national priority, and there are 1,500 wildland firefighters from around the West assembled to battle it. Some work on engine crews, manning the trucks that deliver water to the front lines. Others are smoke jumpers, who parachute straight into burning forests from cargo planes to stop small fires from growing. Some, like my group, are hotshots, backcountry firefighters who use chainsaws, Pulaskis, and rakes to cut firebreaks of bare earth around a blaze.He quotes Tony Barbero, a 32-year-old former third-grade teacher from Berkeley:
“If I had known about this job years ago,” Barbero says, “I never would have gone into teaching. This is it. This is all I ever want to do.”