STUDENT OPTS TO FIGHT FIRES DURING PANDEMIC
In what has become one of the most eventful years in … well … ever, Claire Graziano ’21 (BS) may have had one of the most eventful summer breaks in … well … ever.
Having school and work plans turned completely upside down by a pandemic? Check. Evicted from her San Diego residence because classes were shutting down? Check. Getting food delivered by helicopter while on top of a mountain in Northern California fighting a blazing wildfire? Check. Wait … what?
Strange as it may seem, the last event was by choice. Graziano, an environmental and ocean sciences major who is also a member of USD’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, wasn’t going to let COVID-19 prevent her from doing something meaningful with her sudden abundance of downtime.
“When I realized I wasn’t really going to be doing much over the summer, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to do something worthwhile,” she says. That “something” was heading north to Oregon to join the Greyback Forestry service, where she would train to become a type-II firefighter in order to help combat the forest fires ravaging the Pacific Northwest and California at the time.
It’s hard to imagine someone being more capable of handling the challenges of fighting acre-charring infernos in the California wilds than the even-keeled Graziano, but she doesn’t see it as a big deal. “There’s always a need to help. My schedule certainly was open, and I was looking for a challenge, so I figured, ‘Why not me?’”
Training to fight fires is challenging in the best of times, but Graziano was unable to receive any hands-on training in advance of joining her crew on the fires’ frontlines. That, understandably, can lead to one heck of a stressful first day on the job.
“All of the training was virtual, and even in normal circumstances, nothing can prepare you for the first time you come face to face with a fire,” Graziano explains. “The first day I went out, I couldn’t believe how big the fire was. How hot it was when you were close to it. You have to learn to trust the people you’re working with immediately. Not just to get the job done, but to keep each other safe.”
Those formative moments left a lasting impact on Graziano, who is ready for her next challenge following graduation: flight school in Pensacola, Florida, where she’ll receive the training to hopefully become a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Navy.
“I grew up in a Navy family, and I really loved moving around and seeing new places, and meeting new people. Building a career where I can do that for a living sounds amazing.” — Mike Sauer