On Earning It and Hopefully Not Puking

Today was my first day as a hotshot. I don’t feel like a hotshot yet and I’m guessing most actual hotshots would not allow me to call myself a hotshot after one day on the job. Alas, I have a shirt and a hat that says hotshot on it, so maybe that counts for something even if they aren’t hole-y and covered in sweat/salt stains yet. 

So I expected today to be heinous. I expected it to be militaristic. I fully expected someone to be yelling in my face while I did pushups. I expected to be either sneered at or completely ignored by the veterans on the crew. I was convinced that I’d somehow fail in my physical fitness testing, that I’d puke or pass out or get a cramp or 1,000 other things, even though I’d met all of the physical fitness standards on my own time pre-season (40 situps and 25 pushups in a minute, 6 pull ups, running 1.5 miles in under 10:35 and walking three miles with a 45 lb pack in 45 minutes.) I was mostly stressed about the 1.5-mile run, which I completed just fine, no cramping or puking to speak of. But I think I do this as a coping mechanism for hard things—I expect the absolute worst out of situations so that when they’re inevitably not as bad as I expect, it’s like some sort of perverse relief. Like I wasn’t humiliated or sneered/yelled at and I didn’t puke while running and we didn’t hike 8 miles in full gear so, like, today was awesome!

I shouldn’t have been so stressed, maybe shouldn’t have set my expectations so depressingly low. I knew coming into this summer that the crew I’m on is incredibly progressive in the hotshot world, which was a huge reason I pursued a position on this specific crew so vigorously. They’re markedly averse to the macho-ness that characterizes other crews, and hotshotting in general really—the exact attitudes I’d had nausea-inducing anxiety about when I walked into the hotshot building this morning.

This crew is known for hiring the first female hotshot ever in the 1970s, and subsequently the first ever female hotshot superintendent (the lead positon on a crew) in 1991, the year I was born. On top of being known amongst other fire crews as a non-macho crew, they’ve demonstrated time and time again that they value female crewmembers and leadership—including by having four women (two of whom are in leadership positions) on our 21-person crew this season, which is largely unheard of on hotshot crews. They’ve been well ahead of their time since the crew was established, and those ethics carried through to our crew introductions this morning.

From the onset, it was drilled into us that respect is of upmost priority here—respect for our crewmembers and leadership, respect for ourselves, respect for other crews and firefighters, respect for our common spaces, respect for our gear. Top to bottom, respect. When all else fails, respect. I’ve only been here a day and I’m already proud of my one-day association with this crew, with the pride they take in their work and the respect they have shown to me, already, as a measly rookie.

That’s all to say I’m stoked for this season. I’m stoked to see some fire, stoked to get to know these people who did not ignore me NOR harass me and thus already vastly exceeded my (admittedly dismal) expectations. I’m stoked to work on a crew that is considered one of the best in the business because of that exact thing, for the respect they have for the crew and anyone they come into contact with along the way.

And maybe I’m a little excited to get some sweat stains on these shiny new shirts emblazoned with the word ‘hotshot.’ Maybe then I’ll have earned it.