From the beginning, everything was so uncomfortable.
Just 19 years old, graduated from high school, pretty clueless about fire, and I'm walking into Superintendent Paul Cerda's office, having recently been allowed to join the Alpine Hotshots, one of the most respected fire crews in the country.
Walking into Paul's office that first day to report for duty was a unique experience. I was thinking: I'm so excited, but is this really what I want? Is this going to last me? Is it the right year, or in my case, was this the right time for me to be doing this? All of these questions were racing through my head. But ever since I was young, being a Hotshot was all I ever wanted to do. So, there I stood in Paul's doorway, ready to work.
It's like heading from middle school straight to college. It's a huge jump, and not many people get to do it. I came on a pay period early so that I could familiarize myself with the environment, and I worked with some of the permanent employees prior to the seasonals' arrival. Just as I began to get used to the schedule and how things worked, suddenly, the entire crew came rolling in. I thought I was going to have a heart attack! My chest was pounding. My palms were sweaty. My mind was like a freight train with no brakes. I had tons of thoughts, and I couldn't stop them. What were they going to think? How would they react? Then 0900 came around, and one by one, crewmembers began walking in. As each individual entered, I could feel the energy that came with them, and I could tell they carried with them high standards and even higher expectations. I thought that when the opportunity came, I would introduce myself, and then sit down and just observe their interactions with one another, see how they communicated.
Briefing started at 0930. Crewmembers were welcomed back, someone read the weather forecast, the situation report, and six minutes for safety. Then, we began introductions. We went around the room, and crewmembers stated their names, number of years on Alpine, and past experience. I found that most of the crew had tons of previous experience. What's more, most had been on Alpine for more than three years. Then it came to me. No more sitting back and observing. No more thinking and thinking. Now, it was my turn to introduce myself. "Uhhh...Rafael McLeod, 19 years old, just graduated. NO FIRE EXPERIENCE." That was hard to say in front of a crew of highly trained fire fighters, a group I was trying to join and work with. Fortunately, we got right to business. I survived. We carried on with training, pack testing, and classwork, all necessary to begin the fire season as a Type One Hotshot Crew.