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Wildland Firefighting: Working The Line

July 3, 2012, 10:09 PM by Derek Olson

Wildland Firefighting: Working The Line
BLACK HILLS, SD -

There's nothing easy about fighting wildfires.  Sweltering heat, rugged terrain, and backbreaking work are just some of the things fire crews encounter.

"It's outdoors, I mean, it's a tough job.  Not everybody can do it.  It's definitely a test," Bear Mountain Hand Crew firefighter Mike Colhoff said.

This year firefighters have their work cut out for them.

"We're planning to be working all summer long; no breaks at all, more money and less time to spend it," Bear Mountain Hand Crew firefighter Joey Delaney said.

"I was told not to expect to have much of a summer," Colhoff said.

Delaney and Colhoff are both rookie firefighters and had to hit the ground running.

"I'm very new.  This is my second fire so I'm kind of learning as I go still," Delaney said.

"This is actually my first fire here at Dakota Point," Colhoff said.

"You learn from every single fire you've been in. You learn from it," Bear Mountain Hand Crew firefighter Fadi Diab Chhaide said.

About ten years ago, Chhaide emigrated to the United States from Lebanon where he spent some time fighting fires.

"I never had any safety or helmet or boots.  But now this is professional work.  It's different," Chhaide said.

This is his fourth season with the Bear Mountain Hand Crew, a team of firefighters that battles the fires on the ground.

"You know, the Black Hills is our place to protect over here.  It's like home for me," Chhaide said.

Even though these firefighters all have different reasons for why they chose this line of work, one thing's the same.  By joining this team, you're joining a family.

"Our crew is awesome.  We all get along great together," Delaney said.

"Yeah, they're all my brothers over here, you know?  We're like one team.  We work together.  We get dirty together," Chhaide said.

It also gives these firefighters something to be proud of.

"My mom, she's pretty excited.  I mean, she's telling all of her friends at work, my brothers and sisters over in Pittsburgh.  She's telling everybody; calls me everyday," Colhoff said.

"It's a good career to make your family, your people proud of you," Chhaide said.

"They come up to you and thank you and you just feel good about it because you don't really get that from anywhere else or any other job," Delaney said.

And in spite of this year's explosive fire season, it's a job these firefighters are happy to do.

"The fire, it's a new career for me but I love it.  It's a good thing to do, not only for myself but also for protection for people," Chhaide said.

"A lot of people don't get to do this and I'm glad that I got the chance to work here," Delaney said.

When we spoke with the Bear Mountain Hand Crew last Friday at the Dakota Fire, they had already been to three fires that week.  They're now working on the White Draw Fire.

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