REPRESENT JUSTICE X JR: TEHACHAPI
My name's Leonard Dimaculangan. I work for the U.S. Forest Service as a Texas Canyon hotshot, which is a wildland firefighter. I'm going on my 19th year doing that and we're almost at the end of the fire season, which is pretty good that there's been no major injuries or anything tough like that. Prior to being a hotshot, I've also worked on our helicopter, night flying helicopter, for about five, six years. Prior to that, I worked on a fire engine as well as on a patrol, which is basically a fire engine on a pickup truck. And I could write tickets and if people didn't know, you go to the forest and there are people out there that engage with the public, give them some information, and they're like cops without guns. So I was surprised that I would be able to get that position, but I was blessed with that one.
So that was called a patrol, and before that, I got to work on … I was on a helicopter again and we rappelled. It was a rappel helicopter and what that is, like in the movies, a little less Hollywood, but throw a rope underneath the helicopter and we’d slide down. Once we got down to the ground we’d fight fire. 2005, I was a Redding smokejumper out of Redding, California. And if you’ve seen any of these movies, that’s basically the aerial firefighter that jumps out of the perfectly good plane and hits the ground and starts fighting fire. That was a really good experience.
The year before that, 2004, I worked on a water tender. A water tender is a cool job. What is a water tender? A water tender, whenever a fire engine runs out of water, the water tender comes and fills up the fire engine, kind of an easy way to describe that job. Not the most glamorous job, but I was by myself driving a big vehicle and whenever there was an emergency and they needed help, the water tender goes, and it was nice to be on my own running that program. That was water tender. Prior to that, I was back on Texas Canyon Hotshots, where I’m currently working, so coming full circle where I started. I did a couple seasons as a younger firefighter, and I had one season prior to that on a 10-person hand crew, which primed me for the hotshots.
I’m kind of going backward here, but the couple of years prior to my Forest Service career I worked on a L.A. County inmate camp crew for a couple of seasons, and that’s where I really was introduced to wildland firefighting and decided when I came home from that I’d want to continue in this line of work. Before that, I was still serving out a five-year sentence, which I received maybe five days after I turned 18, so still young and trying to figure things out, and now I’m here. That was ’97-ish and we’re in 2019: it’s been a long journey and definitely many choices had to be made.
Bring up to what I wanted to share is up until I turned 18, there is amongst all 18-year-olds, amongst all of us breathing, is that choice, that choice to do whatever it is we’re going to do that day. We all share the 24 hours equal that way. We all have people that are important to us and some people just in passing that we meet. Whether we engage with them or not, a choice. I made a choice when I was just turning 18, got in trouble. And when I had that time to myself, after going through court and blaming everyone else, I figured out that I needed to just be accountable, because I didn’t want to be where I was, be in a cell, be in a dorm. And most of all, the people I affected, family, the people that are important. You do realize who is important because those are the people that are there. Not to say that other people in my life, your life, are any less important because they didn’t communicate with you while you were serving your time. But life is still happening while we’re reflecting. So I took that time, too, and chose to when I come home, I’m going to do something better and just be better than I was the day before.
And so, which brings all that experience that I just laid out. I did not want to be a wildland firefighter. I actually, for the first couple of years almost despised it because it reminded me of being incarcerated. And so I tried all these different aspects of wildland firefighting to figure out a way to quit. And in that journey, I became a decent firefighter. So currently now, I’m a captain on Texas Canyon Hotshots, one of the oldest hotshot crews in the nation. After this interview, we’ll be going to Colorado in the morning. But for the most part, I did want to just share: make that right choice, that choice for yourself. It’s different for everybody.
We’re all equal that way. We all might have different amounts of time, but if we’re moving forward, then everything behind us, yeah, remind yourself where you came from because that’s important. But having a little bit of courage to look beyond is where most of us, sometimes we stall out. There’s people around us, whether it’s family, friends, strangers. If you share, what I found when I shared my walk, is that there’s been nothing but support, and I didn’t ask for it. I just know that it was put there for me and it was my choice to engage, recognize, and take hold of my life. And now things, yeah, they’re better, but I still have the same challenges that most people do. I got to wake up, go to sleep, got to work, got to eat, got family, friends. The people that mean something to you in your life, best believe that not while you’re around, they’re talking you up, they’re praying for you, they’re hoping the best. Pay it forward. Make that choice. That’s what I got.