By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Maegan Lamb has her own take on Clark Kent’s quick change into Superman: it involves a transition from being a firefighter to fourth grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary School.
On Aug. 20, Lamb’s two-week stint as a firefighter on the lines of the Douglas Complex Fire near Glendale, Ore., was coming to an end. She worked the night shift, which meant falling into bed sometime after 2 a.m. She was up again at 5:30 to make the drive home in time to change out of fire pants, wipe off some of the soot and get to a mandatory meeting at Kennedy.
“Everyone was like, ‘Well, you kind of smell and you’re looking a little dirty, but let’s go with it,’” said Lamb. “I love how supportive both families, the firefighters and the teachers, have been of each other.”
Lamb joined the Oregon Department of Forestry as a wildland fire suppression specialist during her senior year in college. She’d been spending summers as a camp counselor because of her love of the outdoors, but it wasn’t enough to cover her continuing expenses in the Western Oregon University teaching program.
She was assigned to the Dallas crew that protects Polk, Benton, Lincoln and a small part of Yamhill counties. At the time, she was one of two new women at the post and knew nothing about fire.
“When I applied, they told me that was okay and that they were only looking for someone who would be trainable,” Lamb said. She was unfazed by entering a largely male-dominated profession. “I was like, ‘So what? I’m a girl.’”
That attitude lasted about 24 hours, until the crew went on a grueling hike as a sort of getting-to-know-you exercise.
“We turned a corner and had to go up this huge hill. The other woman and I were at the back of the pack and thought there was no way we’d make it. We did, and we were sore, but we also found out that it was the first time anyone on the crew had taken that hike and they were as sore as us,” Lamb said.
Lamb’s work in wildfire suppression can mean anything from a small quarter-acre fire to a blaze engulfing as much as 30 acres. It can also mean assignment to larger fire, like the 50,000-acre one near Glendale, when her own coverage area is at low-risk.
On her home turf, suppression means extinguishing blazes when they pop up and calling in other rural fire districts or contacting lumber companies to bring in a bulldozer or helicopter.
The mission changes on a larger fire. Instead of extinguishing a fire, success in a day’s work is calculated differently.