As I follow the sound of chainsaws echoing through the forest I see flashes of yellow hard hats between the trees below me. Soon, I come across two BLM Women’s Fire Crew members puzzling over how to tackle a stump that they need to cut down. We quickly get to talking. As the day unfolds I make my way through the crew’s worksite, learning about why the members chose wildland fire and MCC, what they’re looking forward to and anticipating this season, and what it’s like to be in a male-dominated field.
Whether it’s a prior job or corps experience, using a chainsaw for a family project, or just plain passion, everyone on this crew comes from different backgrounds and experiences. Nonetheless, their shared mission is clear. When asked about why they chose to enter into the field of wildland fire, Ash and Lily spoke about how fire impacts all ecosystems and how meaningful it is to facilitate that. Lily said, “Fire has a huge potential to create a more resilient landscape. This land has been managed with fire by indigenous populations for thousands of years, and continuing on in the practice feels important to me as we move into more severe impacts of climate change.”
So, what brought them to our Women’s Fire Crew at MCC? Ash appreciates the emphasis on skill-building and discovering future pathways. Betty also thought it would provide her with a wider network of connections, “It is a really good entry point. It is setting me up with a lot of contacts in all different areas of the field.”
Everyone I spoke with was excited and optimistic about the season ahead. Lauryn, one of the crew leaders, is eager to see how her crew members develop throughout the season, “When people say ‘Look what we did’ or ‘we are really proud of ourselves’… That’s what makes me really excited.” But this season is not without its anxieties. Many members share similar worries of adapting to elevation change, physical and mental fatigue, injuries, and dehydration. At the same time, they expressed confidence in their crew to overcome any challenges. Betty shared that sentiment but added with a laugh, “I’m also afraid of getting eaten by a bear. That’s my only fear.”
Most members shared that their real anxieties won’t actually start until after the season. Wildland fire is a male-dominated field. Lily spoke about feeling especially scrutinized, remarking, “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” Tylee worries that when she applies for the smokejumper program in Idaho her application won’t be seriously considered, but, she says, “MCC is providing us with those skills to conquer that barrier.” The members all raved about the supportive learning environment that MCC cultivates. Lily summarized it best by saying, “I don’t know if I would be going into fire if I didn’t have a program like this.”
Indeed, that’s the environment we strive to create at MCC. Supportive, communicative, and designed to inspire each member to find their potential. We are glad these members found their way to wildland fire and our program, and we wish them the best of luck this summer. Keep an eye out for a mid-season check-in!