During a typical day at work, 35-year-old Brad Bolen is glued to the radio. He's the fire operations supervisor for the Bureau of Land Management's Boise district. So when the call comes, he has to spring to action, helping fire crews effectively manage the wildfire. In fact, during his interview with Boise Weekly, he had to interrupt the conversation while he dealt with what turned out to be a false alarm. But he's used to it; he's been a firefighter for 15 years.
Do you get hyped up for the season, or are you more laid back, like you'll deal with being sent out on a fire when it happens?
I've been on so many fires, so I just accept that it's part of the job, especially when you really never know when the fire call will come. I've learned to stop trying to predict when it will happen. It's much easier to deal with [it] that way.
What's it like, waiting and waiting to be sent on a fire?
It's kind of part of the job. After you've done this for however long, you know to expect it, you know how it works. Typically speaking, when it rains, it pours. A lot of times, there will be long periods of time where you're waiting, preparing, making sure you're physically or mentally ready. Then, when a fire hits, you go back to what you learned in basic training, make sure you're doing everything correctly and you're keeping the folks and yourself safe.
What's the worst part of your job?
It's not the job itself I don't like. I get frustrated when budgets get cut. We are federally funded; our budget comes from Congress. We go through ups and downs of funding, so it's difficult to supply on-the-ground firefighters without a consistent funding mechanism.
How stressful is your job?
It's very stressful. The decisions you make affect firefighters and potentially affect homeowners, land users, or people's livelihoods. So there are tough decisions to be made.
One of the physical tests of endurance is the pack test. Is this really as strenuous as rumor has it?
It's an arduous test. You have to carry 45 pounds over three miles in 45 minutes, but I don't think it's that tough. If a person has a reasonable level of fitness, they should be able to accomplish that.
What other physical tests are involved to become a certified firefighter?
Every level has other fitness requirements of what's required for the job. They're all minimums, baseline fitness. It's a requirement of the job to work out 80 percent of the work days, that's four days out of five. Most people work out every day. To me it's a perk, to be honest with you. The first part of our day is physical fitness, a minimum of an hour every day.
Is this something that drew you to the job?
Physical fitness was a big part of it and being on a team was [the] other. I really enjoyed the sense of accomplishment. I had been going to school to be an architect, but I found it would have been impossible to work behind a desk. That's not my personality.
You've been fighting fires for 15 years. Is it something that "gets in your blood," or do you see yourself doing something different in the future?
I would say the reason I chose this career is because, one, I can stay physically active. The other aspect I like is the job is always different. It affords me the opportunity to travel, to meet other people. The job provides opportunities a normal person would not necessarily see.