Sharleena’s story: “the strength behind the boots.”
My husband is Nick Robison, 34, and he is a Squad Leader on the Sierra Hotshots based out of Batterson in Oakhurst.
I am Sharleena Robison, 31, and have been married to Nick for five years, but have been together for six years. We have a son named Kaden, age 4 ½ and a daughter named Sierra (after the crew) age 2 ½. This is my sixth fire season and cannot say that they ever get any easier.
Nick started working for the Forest Service in 2001 on an engine and the following year started working for the Sierra Hotshots. Nick has worked on the Sierra Hotshots for 13 out of the 16 years that he has been with the Forest Service. His job title is Forestry Technician. Even though the hotshots fight wildfires six months out of the year, they are not recognized as firefighters.
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According to Wikipedia, “an interagency hotshot crew (IHC), or simply hotshot crew, is a Type 1 handcrew of 20 firefighters specially trained in wildfire suppression tactics. Hotshot crews are considered an elite group among wildland firefighters, due to their extensive training, high physical fitness standards, and ability to undertake difficult, dangerous, and stressful assignments. They often respond to large, high-priority fires and are trained and equipped to work in remote areas for extended periods of time with little logistical support.”
Hotshots are considered to be “the Navy Seals of wildland firefighting” due to their extensive drilling, training, and knowledge. They are sent to fight wildland fires in such remote locations across the United States, that quite often they are helicoptered in and picked up two weeks later. These crews usually tend to work 16 hour shifts daily for two weeks straight and then get two days off to come home to rest and see their families.
They sleep in the dirt, more often than not eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), most times do not have cell service, and do not get regular showers, but never complain about their working conditions.
Married to a Hotshot
I have known Nick since I was 13 and we had a quick high school romance, which we rekindled almost 10 years later.
Nick and I started dating at the beginning of the 2010 fire season and I did not know what to expect, I honestly had no clue what fire life was like. It was all new and exciting dating a firefighter. The following year we got married and shortly after we were expecting our first child.
When I first found out I was pregnant with Kaden, Nick was gone on a fire in Texas for three weeks and had to tell him over the phone that we were expecting. When I found out with our second that we were having a girl, Nick did not have service and had to wait until he did to hear the news. We planned our pregnancies so that our children would be born during the winter so Nick could be around.
Fire season is much different now after having children. Our children miss their Daddy so much and I know Nick misses them just as much. It’s just as hard on him as it is on us here at home and we all make sacrifices for his career.
I have been working part time as a Dental Hygienist for six years, but decided to take this fire season off to be with the kids until season is over in November to try to relieve the stress of working, plus taking care of the kids while Nick is gone.
I have been subbing at some dental offices this summer here and there though when needed. I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband who understands the stress and demands of life at home while he is gone. As I like to say, firefighter wives are the strength behind the boots.
The life of a firefighter family is very stressful. We can say good bye to Nick in the morning when he leaves for work and then not see him again for a few weeks. That is very difficult to try to explain to young children because they don’t understand why their Daddy was here when they went to bed, but then is gone for the next few weeks.
Our life is very unpredictable and not consistent. We don’t make many plans because we know if we do, Nick will get called to leave for a fire. We have good days and also very challenging days at home. I try to concentrate on the kids and keeping life here at home as normal as possible while Nick is gone, but our life is anything but normal.
I try to manage the stress and anxiety by talking to other fire wives, because they are the only ones that truly understand what life of a fire wife is like. We try to let our kids play, while we vent and also laugh. It’s nice knowing that you’re not alone and that there are others experiencing the same things.
I support Nick one hundred percent in his career and am very proud of him. He has excelled in his job and is a role model for others. I will continue to support him and the decisions he makes with his career as a firefighter.
The nature of a firefighter’s work is very stressful. We just try to have faith that everything will be okay and try not to think focus on the negative. I don’t want it to seem like what Nick does is any harder or more difficult than any other person because they are all out doing the same thing and making the same sacrifices.
Hearing of any accidents that happen on fires really hits home and puts it into perspective of how dangerous their job really is and that anything can happen. Nick rarely talks about the dangers of his job.
Every year at the beginning of fire season the crew puts on a family day for all of the families to come to see what it is that the Sierra Hotshots do and to prepare us for the upcoming season. It helps to show the families the drilling and training that goes on, as well to see the knowledge and experience the overhead of the crew has.
Getting a phone call or text saying that they are doing okay is the best thing and can make any day better. On the other hand, not hearing from Nick for weeks or days on end makes the days very difficult, but no news is good news.
Having Nick gone for long periods of time for half of the year is very challenging and stressful. Last year the Sierra Hotshots were only home two days a month for almost four months, but this season has been a little more manageable so far.
Life at home without Nick is hard. The kids miss him so much and Kaden told me this summer that he was afraid his Daddy was going to get burned in a fire and my heart broke for him.
The kids wake up crying for their Daddy and don’t understand that there isn’t service to call him.
Nick misses so many milestones: birthdays, holidays and everyday life here at home. Being a firefighter wife means that I have to be both the Mom and Dad at home, I have to handle all aspects of home life, work, fix things that are broken, take the kids to doctor’s appointments, and also try to stay positive and keep a smile on my face.
I get used to doing things alone with the kids and going places. I am fortunate to have a lot of support from my family and that helps so much. When Nick comes home we try to cram two weeks of missed family time into two days and that’s hard to do, but we make the most out of it.
Nick just got home Monday from being gone on the Soberanes fire in Monterey with no service for two weeks and we picked him up at the station and took the kids camping for a night just to try to get some family time in, even though I’m sure Nick would have loved to come home to sleep in his bed.
Nick is a trooper and always has a smile on his face. Seeing his and the kids’ faces light up after a long two weeks being apart is so special. Our children are so proud of their Daddy and he is their hero. If Nick has service at the end of the day he tries to Face Time with the kids and that helps.
Nick strives to be in the best physical shape that he can be and pushes himself so hard. Seeing him enjoying what he does is great. He has to love what he does to keep doing it and to be away from his family.
The Sierra Hotshots get to travel all over the United States which is exciting because they get to see so many different states and places that they normally wouldn’t get to see. It’s always exciting hearing of where they have been and seeing pictures.
My younger brother Kurt Hanft, 22, has been on the Sierra Hotshots for two years now and was on an engine for a year before that. I think having him on the crew has helped my family to realize what life is really like and how dangerous their job is.
They now get to see how much the crew is gone and what we all go through. They now understand my fears and daily struggles a little bit better.
Most people just say “oh well, it’s their job and they are out making money,” but to actually experience it is much different and puts it into perspective.
The Sierra Hotshots, as well as the other Forest Service crews, do not get the recognition that they deserve and most people do not even realize who they are or what they do. They do not consider themselves heroes, never expect a thank you and are the most humble people I have ever met.
Most people do not understand the sacrifices that these firefighters make being away from their families, putting themselves in the line of danger and sacrificing their bodies. They are heroes and if you ever see the green fire trucks give them a wave. I’m so grateful to Nick for all of the sacrifices that he makes to support his family, and I am proud to be a firefighter wife, and so proud of my husband and the rest of the crew.
This is the second in a series of stories about firefighters and families.
Kellie Flanagan is the Managing Editor of Sierra News Online.