Firefighter reflects on his experiences during fire season

Kendall Miranda standing in uniform. Melissa Miranda/Courtesy 

It’s 5:30 a.m. in Chilcoot, California when Kendall Miranda, a firefighter for Plumas National Forest, begins his day with a morning jog. As he runs through the forest, Miranda appreciates every tree, animal and insect that passes him by and he is aware of the importance of each living being. After his run, he cools down with some yoga and eats a very large meal. 

“If anything I’ve gained weight since I got here, they feed us well and I need the food as fuel to get ready for the day,”  Miranda says as he prepares himself for his 16-hour shift. “Preparation is different for each fire though, but we always begin with a briefing. It all depends where the fire is, weather, terrain and all that.” 

A normal day on the job is usually like this for Miranda as a first-year firefighter. Life in Chilcoot, CA isn’t exactly a fun place to live according to him. 

“This city is like the one in the movie ‘Tremors’ since nothing is here but a gas station and only 110 people,” Miranda says. “Actually the town in the movie is like a thriving metropolis compared to this fucking place.”

Since Reno, Las Vegas is a place that is close to Miranda, it is  where he feels fulfilled. 

“I gotta drive 40 damn minutes just for some buffalo wild wings man,” Miranda says. “It makes me realize how much I take In-N-Out for granted. After a scary fire it feels so much tastier though.” 

Although this brought up those fire stories that Miranda had to go through, he was fighting against two of the many big fires happening in the west coast, including the Claremont Fire and the Loyalton Fire. Loyalton was the location where the fire tornadoes were happening. 

“Things are a bit different compared to a normal day when it comes to fires like this,” Miranda says. “Since it’s at a different location we actually stay at a camp, and this time I can’t even do my morning routine since I know the day will already be taxing.” 

The physical toll that it takes on firefighters leaves them bodily and mentally wiped out. As they drive there he stays quiet and sends a quick text message to his mom, letting her know he’s off to a fire. However, he’s not scared, it’s more a feeling of nervousness, but when the situation gets heavy, fear does come to his mind. 

“Me and the people I were with were literally fighting right underneath the fire tornado,” Miranda says. “The fire was coming from all sides and we were running everywhere, the winds were pushing it towards us. We were moving around like a star going back and forth and sometimes it feels like the fire isn’t calming down at all.” 

Miranda says that usually they don’t really feel much of the heat from the fires. They can feel the temperature rising but nothing that adds discomfort to doing the job. However, the fire tornado was an unusually painful experience that was like no other.

“If the wind is pushing towards you then you can definitely feel the heat torch you,” Miranda says. “The smoke burned my eyes and they watered so much you can’t even see, the worse is when you breathe in so your nose hurts and coughs so much that it becomes painful every time. It lasts for days and then you even get a bad headache.”

Regardless of all the dangers he faces, Miranda has been lucky enough to avoid any serious injuries or accidents and no one in his group has had any mishaps. Although Miranda is the firefighter with the least experience at his station he makes sure to pull his weight, learning from those around him and doing what he needs to do.

Not only has he avoided having to see a friend get hurt, but the same goes for many inmates that volunteer to fight fires through special programs. The firefighters are to keep their distance from the inmates. Sharing nothing but brief hellos or answering a couple of questions regarding the job. 

That does not mean that his crew doesn’t feel the sadness when a fellow firefighter from a different department gets hurt or dies. In mid-September, a firefighter died fighting the San Bernardino fire that infamously began due to a gender reveal. 

“I didn’t know him personally but some of my buds did,” Miranda says. “Pretty much someone always knows someone from a different department, we get switched around a lot so we meet many other firefighters. It was really sad, our captain told us and you could tell everyone was just so bummed out for a while. It was really quiet that day, nobody spoke on the way to the fire.” 

It is difficult to even understand how any human can do the many strenuous things that he and his fellow firefighters can do. Not only is firefighting physically draining, but mentally as well. Regardless of the risk, Miranda loves every second of being a firefighter and is happy to be doing what he believes he was meant to do. 

Miranda’s contract ends this November. Though he is uncertain what will happen, he is hopeful he will get an extension. For now, he is looking forward to spending some time with his family for the holidays. 

“I’m excited to see my whole family and for our year’s Hanukkah party,” Miranda says. “Not sure if it will happen because of the COVID-19 stuff but regardless I’ll make sure I eat. I think I’m most excited to get cheap Mexican food and to live in a civilized city again.”