note: article first appeared in late September 2015
In August & September I was in the state of Washington on a wildland fire. It has been a bad year for fires, especially Washington. There were lots of homes threatened and the fire was growing rapidly.
I showed up on the fire and was given my assignment along with some minimal resources. We never really have enough it seems. I got to work and we were making a difference and saving homes but it was fast-paced and challenging.
I mentioned that there was a lack of resources and that included field operations folks like me as well. My duties quickly expanded to cover an area of the fire that was almost directly at the head of the fire. We did a large burn-out one night that went textbook perfect.
Although very tired, we headed back out there the next morning to continue the “herding” of the fire into an area that was of low value, mostly scrub trees. Our intention was to “hook” the fire once we got it past the last ranch that was threatened. As we headed to the fire we went through a ranch on their road. The same person that met me yesterday came running out to meet me again that morning.
One of the “blessings” of being a supervisor/leader on a wildfire is going in first. At least that is my philosophy; first in, last out.
The day before “Don” had came running out to my truck and we chatted for awhile. I had explained to him why we were there, what we were going to be doing, and assured him that we would protect his ranch. Don was, let’s say, “excited” the day before. And he sounded like a burned out hippie about the age of late mid to late 50’s. But all went well, and as I said earlier, things went well for us.
But the second morning Don was insane. Yes, literally insane. He was screaming and yelling at me about everything we had done. He yelled at me that we had set everything on fire. He yelled at me that we had cut a fireline on his property. He yelled at me for being an agent of the government and being controlled by the cattle barons. He told me how he had gone up against the government three times before and beat them…and he would “show ’em again.” He then started trying to engage me about global warming. All the while he was very animated as in flailing his arms, moving around rapidly, and sometimes charging right up to my truck window.
All along I was using every technique that I knew to de-escalate the situation. Nothing I tried worked, his emotions were like a roller coaster, and getting worse by the minute. I suspected drug usage…past or present.
I had told my firefighters to not stop, they were to continue to their work locations/assignments and get started while I dealt with Don.
Then Don started talking about how he was the local thermal vent investigator. He investigated the local thermal vents, the same types of vents that were underwater in the ocean around the world. But he went on to talk about how the government was lying to everyone about the thermal vents and it was all a big conspiracy cover-up.
Next up on his agenda…the local cattle barons were running the fire. And it got worse from there. But then it took a very bad turn.
Don started talking about knowing where our camp was. That he had dealt with this crap before. He knew where to go and what he was going to do. He was going f*-up some people just as soon as he got to camp, and that would be soon because he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
I rolled my window up the rest of the way and drove off, I wasn’t going to listen to his lunacy anymore. However, since he had made some not-so-thinly veiled threats I was obligated to report the incident to my supervisor, the Operations Section Chief.
Well, that conversation didn’t go too well. As soon as I related the conversation, and that it was the second incident with Don in two days, I was told to pull my guys out of the area. I reminded him that is would almost assure us of losing the fire in this area and the fire growing uncontrolled once again. The order stood, I was to abandon the area immediately.
To shorten the story, we left. Remember, I am the last one out. But I am also not stupid. I talked to my 2nd in command and told him to drive out in front of me but to hold up about 50 yards past the gate while I closed the gate behind me. He was to make sure I wasn’t left on my own with some crazy man headhunting Feds. We had also decided to drive out on a different two-track road to avoid the ranch house area all together…and maybe avoid Don altogether.
We almost made it.
All of our resources had driven out and it was just my 2nd and myself. As we drove up to the last gate we had to close here comes Crazy Don driving like a bat out of hell. He pulled up and blocked the road to prevent us driving out. As he came back to start screaming at me, my 2nd drove around Don’s truck, through the gate and then watched for me.
Crazy Don was screaming at me through my window accusing me of abandoning his ranch because it was on state protected lands and I was a federal resource and hated state citizens. He kept lunging at my truck door and acting like he was high on PCP or Meth. He was threatening me and trying to…well, let’s just say I had my door locked and window cracked open only about an 1”.
When I saw my 2nd had cleared the gate I simply drove off leaving Crazy Don yelling and screaming at my tailgate.
After I got through the gate and around the corner in the road I blocked the two-track while my resources finished traveling to the blacktop road. I followed them out. Low and behold the OpsChief had called Johnny Law who wanted to meet with me. Evidently threatening a Federal employee can be a fairly serious crime.
Now, let me shorten the story a whole lot…
We didn’t return and engage the fire that day, we were told not to be there or anywhere close by. Overnight the fire moved a whole lot and we were able to re-engage the next morning. But it was too late, we lost that part of the fire entirely.
Law enforcement had a conversation with Don. Evidently it went well, he was not arrested and no firefighters were assaulted. But the damage was done. Our lack of ability to engage the fire that day probably cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, and burned up another 30,000 acres, maybe more. But that is not the point to this article.
So, what is the point?
Crazy Don is the point. He is the whole point to this article.
Don’t be a Crazy Don!
There is a time and place for everything, but not every time and place it the right time for everything.
Roughly translated that means…whatever your beliefs are, know the right time and place to talk about them. Better yet, know the right people to talk to about them.
If you are a “birther”, a “turther”, “chem-trailer”, “blood-mooner” or whatever else you might be; even a thermal vent inspector, know when is the right time to talk about it. Better yet, know when the wrong time to talk about is…and don’t talk about it if the time isn’t right.
Do you want to be the next Crazy Don?
What did all of Don’s ranting and ravings accomplish? Did anything positive get accomplished?
Or did he just make a name for himself as a crazy, burned-out hippie? And did he get on LEO’s radar? Could he have found himself in serious legal or criminal trouble?
Just think about it. I am not saying to not have sincere beliefs and advocate for certain issues. But just use common sense and be practical about it. Use good judgment in when and where you talk about it. And most importantly, be careful “who” you talk about it with.
It was obvious that Don was fairly anti-government. Did he have a kindred spirit in me?
Let’s say he did for this conversation. Did him going off the deep end in my face help him or hurt him? Was it worth it?
As you well know I want you to stand up, I want you to take action for those righteous things you believe in. However, you have to be intelligent in the way you go about it.
If you don’t…you become just another Crazy Don.
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