1:01 p.m., Aug. 28, 2009----Eric Bugglin-Borer, a junior University of Delaware Honors Program student majoring in biochemistry, had the ideal summer job. He got paid to travel the country, visiting places he had never been before, camping and working outside, all while having the time of his life. Oh, and there was also the small matter of having to fight fierce wildfires sweeping the West.
Last year, Bugglin-Borer went on two firefighting assignments in Northern California. This year, his assignment took him to Utah before he was transferred to Los Padres National Park in Southern California.
Bugglin-Borer first became interested in firefighting while he was in Boy Scouts and met Michael Valenti, Delaware's assistant state forester. After the student earned Eagle Scout status, Valenti offered him the chance to train to become a wildland firefighter.
Says Bugglin-Borer, “I took the classes, bought an expensive pair of approved wildland firefighting boots and waited for a call to go out West.”
The process of being placed is a guessing game at best. As Bugglin-Borer explains, “It's not up to me where we go. When I was called this year I was told we were going to Alaska. When I arrived at Blackbird State Forest we were told we were going to Oregon, and on the plane we were told we were going to Utah. After two days in Utah we were sent to Southern California.”
On assignment for 14 days, plus three days of travel, Bugglin-Borer was placed in a fire suppression group. These groups are organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are made up of volunteer structural firefighters, state employees involved in forestry, Department of Agriculture workers, and a few people just like Bugglin-Borer, who are unaffiliated.
When asked about his favorite part of this year's experience, Bugglin-Borer explains that he mostly enjoyed getting to know the members of his group. “A crew is composed of 20 individuals who get to know each other fairly well over the two-week assignment. I enjoy listening and learning from the life experiences and insights of each, especially as I choose a path for my future.”
He also enjoyed participating in a burn off, in which land is cleared of vegetation in a controlled fire, and getting a glimpse of the Morton Salt factory in Utah.
Although Bugglin-Borer does concede that, “some situations have been more tense than others,” he says that he has never been scared in a situation, attributing this bravery to being in a group with experienced crewmembers.
“I have never been scared because the group we have has a lot of experience,” he says. “In addition, we are constantly aware of our surroundings and we do our best to stress situational awareness. We are constantly aware of the weather and position of the fire in relation to our location.”
As far as the future, Bugglin-Borer plans to graduate with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, and afterwards has plans for either medical or graduate school, or a combination M.D./Ph.D. But he plans to continue with firefighting in some capacity. “One of the guys who was on my crew this past summer is a recruiter for a local fire station so I have been considering structural firefighting. I plan to take some more classes for wildland firefighting. Hopefully I will be able to continue traveling out West to fight fires,” he says.
Article by Adam Thomas