“Just write about that cleanup we helped with the other day. Or the food drive we’re doing this weekend. Tell them we’re ready for the upcoming fire season and post the group photo. Short and sweet.”
“Cleanups and food drives? You guys do stuff like that?” I asked.
“Yeah. All the time.” Tyler said the words as if I should have known.
After a knock on the door, a familiar voice began to speak. “Who’s the skirt?”
I turned to see Taylor standing in the doorway. It was downright unsettling how identical he was to Tyler.
I glared at him. “I’m not wearing a skirt, nor am I a skirt. And you know perfectly well who I am.”
Taylor winked and smiled. “Be sure to tell all your Tumblr feminists you were offended first,” he said before turning for the TV room.
Tyler’s jaws pulsed beneath the skin, but then he breathed out slowly.
The superintendent’s eyes danced between where Taylor stood, Tyler, and me. “What the hell was that about?”
Chief clicked the mouse and sat back in his chair, perching his elbows on the armrests. “It’s tweeting!”
“She’s clear. Keep her in the black or in the goddamn safe zone, and get the hell out of my office. I have work to do.”
“Aye, Chief,” Tyler said, shooing me into the hall.
“The black?” I whispered from the side of my mouth.
“The area that’s already been burned to a crisp,” Tyler said, mimicking me.
I breathed out a sigh of relief. “That was more difficult than I imagined.”
“He’s a good guy. He gets shit done, makes sure we have all the equipment we need, even when the brass don’t always think we need it.”
“Government higher-ups. It’s a budgeting thing. Constant fight. Not why you’re here. Let’s go meet some of the guys.”
Tyler led me to the truck bay where the rest of his crew was hard at work. Two of them had the hood up on one of the trucks, two were sweeping and mopping the concrete floor, and a few more were in the corner with the equipment.
“What are those?” I asked, pointing to the axe/hammer hybrids hanging from the wall.
“Oh, those are pulaskis. Those,” he said, pointing to a shovel-like tool, “are rhinos. We make those here.”
“Yeah, with the welder, a saw, a sander, and a few other tools. Whatever we can find, really. We have to get creative sometimes.”
I pulled out my camera, took a few shots of the tools, and then aimed at the crewmembers going about their day. Tyler approached the men tinkering under the hood of a vehicle that looked like an oversized ambulance.
“When it runs,” one of the men said.
“The sign outside says Interagency, and you have Interagency equipment here, but also engines, and this is the city fire department?” I asked, confused.
Tyler shrugged. “Double duty. Just makes things easier, especially since a lot of us do both urban and wildland. It’s closer to town, too, during off-season.”
I nodded, pulling out my notepad and pen.
“This,” Tyler said, pointing to a man taller than him, but not as thick, “is Smitty.” The short but solid hotshot wore glasses, and was a sophisticated kind of beautiful, with olive skin and a grease smear on his cheek.
They both wiped their hands on their pants and greeted me.
Tyler pointed to the other one. “This is Taco.”
“Taco?” I asked. His red hair and freckled skin gave me no hint of a reason for the nickname.
“Clinton Tucker. My son is two. When he says our last name, it sounds like taco. Unfortunately, it stuck, but it’s not the worst nickname around here.”
“Does everyone have one? A nickname?” I asked.
Smitty chuckled. “He has one, but no one is brave enough to say it to his face.”
“You’ll have to let me in on that,” I said with a smirk.
I jotted down their names. “Is it hard for you, Taco? Being away from your son for days or weeks at a time?”
“I guess. We don’t really know another way. It’s what I do,” Taco said, wiping his hands with a rag. “During fire season, it’s months at a time.”
“How long have you been a hotshot?”
“This is my fourth season in Colorado.”
I nodded and let them get back to their jobs, then stood in the corner to snap a few candids of them working.
“Over there is Watts … Randon Watson,” Tyler said, pausing while Watts waved with one hand, holding a mop in the other. “And that is our squad boss, Jubal Hill. Don’t let the silver hair throw you. He’s an animal.”
Jubal dropped the broom and walked over, his light hair setting off his bronze skin and baby-blue eyes. He held out his hand. “Jubal Lee Hill. Nice to meet you.”
He looked down and laughed once. “It’s just Jubal. No nickname needed.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. When he walked away, I documented him like I was paparazzi. He needed to be in a calendar, or working for Vogue in New York and wearing designer glasses and a suit, not pushing a broom in a garage.
“It’s okay,” Tyler said. “Every female who comes through here has a crush on Jubal.”
“That’s because he doesn’t know it.”
“Seriously. He’s loved the same woman his entire life. Since, like, the first grade or something. They got married right after high school, and … you should see them. They’re gross.”
“No,” Tyler said. “We just like to give ’em hell. I bet my parents would still be like that, too. It’s kind of cool to see. The rest of them are out.”
“How many are on your crew? And what do you mean by out? Hurt? Vacation? Out sick?”
“Not very many, but the toughest hotshots I know are women.”
I smiled, letting my camera hang from the strap around my neck. “So where are the rest?”
Tyler led me to a group photo in a frame. “Like I said, in off-season, when we’re not fighting fires, we’re sometimes assigned other jobs like search and rescue or disaster response assistance. We’ll also work to meet resource goals on our home units. Some guys have other part-time jobs or just take unemployment and ski or travel or spend time with family.” He pointed to the faces I didn’t recognize. “Fish, the assistant superintendent. Sage, Bucky, and Slick are squad bosses like Jubal. Sugar. Cat. Scooter. Baggins. Jew. Sancho. Runt. Puddin’. Pup.”
“I’ll get you a list of full names later.”