In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with California firefighter Nick Kalt.
Nick is a retired United States Marine Corps officer and a Purple Heart Recipient. After he retired from the USMC, Nick became a firefighter for the city of Long Beach, California.
Brian and Nick talk about the intense rigors of firefighting, the expansion of the fire season, and the devastation wildland fires have caused across the American West.
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Brian and Nick discuss:
- Why he decided to become a firefighter after he retired from the USMC
- How firefighters serve their communities beyond that of firefighting
- The 80% solution and being biased toward action
- The strides being made in psychological and physical preparation for firemen and woman
- How wildland firefighting across the American West has changed dramatically over the last decade
- The strategies firefighters are using to adapt to the expansion of the fire season
- And other topics
Nick Kalt was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After high school, Nick attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While there, he played on the Club Rugby Team, earning All-American honors in 1999. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Systems Engineering in 2000. After graduation, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and left the armed forces as a Captain in 2015. Today, Nick continues working as a firefighter with the city of Long Beach, CA.
Read the show notes!
Brian Beckcom: Welcome to the Lessons From Leaders podcast. I'm your host, Brian Beckcom. In today's episode, I have Nick Kalt. Nick has appeared on this podcast before and is the first repeat guest of the show. In the first episode with Nick, we had such a great time discussing his military experience, leadership advice, and other related topics.
However, we didn't get a chance to talk about something I think is super cool and super important. After Nick got out of the military, he became a firefighter in California. With all the wildfires happening in California right now, he is literally right in the thick of all it.
In today's episode, I want to get straight to the point as most of the audience has gotten to know a little about him from the first episode. Anyone who doesn't know about Nick or missed his first appearance on the show will go back and listen to it. To quickly add some context, Nick served in the military as a Marine and then joined the fire department as a firefighter. Nick is a true American Hero by all means.
Welcome again to the show Nick, I really appreciated you coming on today. I know you're super busy out there battling all the wildfires. How are things? How are you doing with all of it?
Nick Kalt: First of all, Brian, Thanks for having me on the show for a second time. I feel honored to be the first repeat guest, so thank you for that.
I think, all things considered, Things are going really well. Over the last decade, and acutely, Wildland firefighting has explicitly changed the previous three or four years pretty dramatically. Not only in California but the entire American West.
As far as wildland firefighting is concerned, I want to preface anything I say by noting that I'm not an expert on the subject matter. I work for the city of Long Beach Fire Department, and our primary type of fire-related calls involved fighting structural fires.
Over the last few years, as wildland firefighting techniques and tactics have progressed, we've become more and more involved with battling those types of fires as well. We have a fair share of our guys involved that right now.
Brian Beckcom: Not to be funny, but typically firemen and firewomen are portrayed as putting out building fires, and rescuing cats isn't what's happening in reality. With all of these massive wildfires going on, is it an all hands on deck scenario? Or, is their groups of firefighters that specialize in these type of firefighting over the other.
Nick Kalt: That's an excellent question. Let me answer that in segments. There are separate groups that specialize in different kinds of firefighting. For example, the organization that I belong to serves the citizens of Long Beach. Long Beach is a very densely packed urban area and more so than Los Angeles, California.
Brian Beckcom: Wow, I did not know that.
Nick Kalt: The large majority of what we do daily consist of EMS or emergency medical services. We are typically first to respond to traffic accidents to provide essential paramedic and ambulance services to folks until they get a hospital. In general, it's 75% to 80% of what we do. The other 20% to 25% being your occasional fire. I wish I could tell you that we were fighting structural firefighters most of each day, but that's not just the case.
In terms of actual firefighting calls, It's kind of a pendulum swing. We'll have a few shifts where we respond to minor fire emergencies, and at other times we might go a week or a month without a significant structural firefight.
As far as wildland fires are concerned, different entities like CalFire and Forest Services respond to those types of calls primarily. Many City Fire Departments have OES or office of emergency services. The federal fire department provides each location with specific wildland firefighting gear, which is staffed and maintained by each city location.
Depending on where a fire breaks out is what determines what entry will own that specific firefight. For example, in some scenarios, Cal fire may be the owning agency, or the US forest service might be the owning agency. Whichever entity it is, they'll send out requests based on regions. Whatever Fire Department is in that region will send out resources they have available to help with those individual firefights whenever they crop up.
Brian Beckcom: Gotcha, to clarify further, when a wildfire flares up near you, the owning State or Federal entity would reach out to your department to request resources and assistance with it.
Nick Kalt: That's exactly how it goes.
Why Nick decided to become a firefighter after he retired from the USMC
Brian Beckcom: With all these fires raging in California right now, I've heard about many young people in their twenties quitting their jobs and going out to California to fight these fires. In fact, I know a guy who's a math major that's out there right now fighting those flames.
Based on experience and your journey to becoming a firefighter, what would you recommend to those interested in joining the firefight? What should they read about, work on, or steps they should take?
Nick Kalt: That's a good question. First of all, I'll talk about my path to becoming a firefighter. In 2006, I finished my military career and didn't start my career as a firefighter until 2008. While I was in the military, I started thinking about what type of job I wanted to transition to when my military assignment ended. At the time, I wanted to transition into a teaching career. After receiving my teaching credentials, I started in a substitute teacher role until I could find a full time teaching position. While substituting, I realized that I didn't enjoy teaching to the level that I thought I might.
At the time, an engineer with the fire department was living across the street from me. I think he sensed I was a bit disillusioned with the teaching path and the mismatch between what I had hoped it would be and what it turned out to be for me.
He invited me to a ride-along, and I stayed at his fire station for 24 hours. It was station number 3 in Long Beach. Long Beach is a busy and densely populated area with a large homeless population, large fire load with different occupancy types, and we were super busy the entire day and night.
The entire time I was grinning ear to ear because it provided many different elements of what I missed a lot from the Marine Corps. The camaraderie, the physicality, the ability to work with your hands, and required time-critical decision making. All these things combined appealed to my nature as a former Marine Corps officer. I could see myself doing that job as a firefighter, and that's where my transition began. After spending those 24 hours as a ride-along, I knew that that's what I wanted to do. After that, for the next two years, I pursued that career path until I got hired.
Brian Beckcom: When you say you pursed the career to become a firefighter, what does that entail? What were the next steps you took?
Nick Kalt: My number one recommendation is immersion. Essentially, get to know as much about this career as possible before you commit. Number one, it's going to provide you with a level of exposure to make an informed decision on if its what you want to do with the rest of your life. It's a huge commitment to go through all the training and to get hired.
Number two, by immersing yourself and learning as much as you can, you show up with something to offer. You show up as, as a new firefighter with a certain level of knowledge and ability, just based on the amount of research that you've done in making yourself the most marketable for the job specifically.
My hiring process took about two years. The same day as my ride-along, the fire engine guys drove me down to City Hall in Long Beach. I filled out a paper application in the back of the fire apparatus handed it in, in person. That started the process and got the ball rolling.
In the meantime, I applied to several other places as well. Let me tell you, the process itself is a lengthy one. It's very competitive, and it behooves you to start things off on the right foot. For those interested in pursuing this career, there are a couple of common steps across the country.
There's the primary application, like with any job, whether it's written or online. There's a physical component where you're physical ability is evaluated by a standardized test. There's a background check, psychological evaluation, medical evaluation, and the interview process.
The interview portion is typically two-tiered; it starts at the Captain's level, followed by a secondary interview with the Chief. There are many different hurdles to get through, but a worthwhile jump for people invested in doing it.
Brian Beckcom: As a former all American rugby player in college and an outstanding football player, you've always been a good athlete. How important is the physical component of being a firefighter?
Nick Kalt: I'd say it's relatively important. It's a job that exposes you to a lot of danger. I don't necessarily mean running inside of a burning building, but the danger from vehicle traffic on the freeway along with exposure to infectious diseases. Compound that with a lot of sleepless nights of working a 24-hour schedule. Sometimes, it can turn into being on for 70 to 96 hours at a time.
You certainly get off duty time, but when you're working a wildland fire for two weeks straight, you end up with a lot of sleepless nights. Erratic sleep patterns are a huge factor in increasing your risk of cancer. It also increases your risk for many physical maladies like high blood pressure and psychological detriments that you don’t face in many other kinds of careers.
It behooves you to be prepared to handle some of the rigors that the career puts you through. And again, the rigorous isn't necessarily like what the military might expose you to, but they're what takes a toll on your body over the long run. It benefits you to have a background that allows you to be physically resilient.
Brian Beckcom: How big is the Long Beach fire department? How big is it in comparison to a standard fire department in a similar-sized city?
Nick Kalt: The city of Long Beach itself, don't quote me on this, has roughly 500,000 people. Currently, we have 23 fire stations with an estimate of around 350 firefighters.
Brian Beckcom: Wow, is that all full time?
Nick Kalt: Yes, that’s around 350 paid firefighters. The nice part about the city of Long Beach is that we consider ourselves all hazards. There are a lot of different things that we go up against that test you as a firefighter. It's a big city with all different kinds of structures, all different types of people and is exceptionally diverse. It's still small enough to know everybody literally. As such, I know all of my fellow firefighters, unlike a lot of our neighboring agencies like Orange County or Los Anglesless. We're small enough to have a real rapport with everyone, and it's more of a family atmosphere.
How firefighters serve their communities beyond that of firefighting
Brian Beckcom: Let me ask you this, on a regular weekly, monthly basis, what percentage of your time is fighting fires versus going to traffic accidents or doing other things like that?
Nick Kalt: Probably 80% of what we do is, is EMS related. That includes everything from stubbed toes to heart attacks and stuff in between. The portion of Long Beach, where I work, is a relatively low-income population. And for better or worse, I think many folks tend to treat our services almost like their primary care. They may not have a primary care physician or medical insurance, but they have access to 911. So sometimes we'll show up on a scene that’s not a genuine emergency, but then many times it is.
I'd say the other 20% is typically related to traffic accidents. My station here in Southern California is near the intersection of two highly trafficked freeways. We do a lot of vehicle accident mitigation that includes extricating people from smashed up vehicles, controlling the scene, or providing EMS care for people that require it.
Brian Beckcom: Tell me about instances that are more of a combo of all the services you provide. For example, a traffic accident with fires in or around the vehicles, plus you've got to take care of people that are injured or extract them from the car. I would imagine that instances like that can get very complicated.
Nick Kalt: It’s higher intensity when a vehicle fire is involved. Many of them are loaded with plastics polystyrene and can go up in flames in the blink of an eye. It adds an element of a complication to that when we arrive on the scene to find that.
Brian Beckcom: Most people have heard of the jaws of life used in extrication. Is your department equipped with it?
Nick Kalt: Our station, in particular, has all the vehicle extrication equipment on our trucks. We have four truck companies in our city and one urban search and rescue vehicle. So those units are explicitly tasked with vehicle extrication. They carry the jaws of life, hydraulic rams, and all the different equipment we utilize to provide extrication. Modern vehicles have become a lot more survivable, even though they've become lighter in many ways.
The airbag systems and how they're designed don't necessarily stand up to a crash as well. Still, they provide the passenger space with a lot more protection than they typically would in the past.
Brian Beckcom: No doubt about that. As a lawyer, I've actually specialized in product liability cases against automotive companies in the past. I mean, it's funny to me that back in the early seventies, when the government was talking about mandating the seatbelts, the auto companies were totally and completely against it. The same thing is true with airbags and with a lot of these other safety measures. But you're exactly right in my experience, cars across the board, cars, and trucks are far safer because of these safety measures.
But now let me ask you about how the decision tree works? Let's say you get called, or your team gets called to some sort of highway accident of some kind, and you get out there, and the vehicles on fire and there are people trapped inside. Like how does, how does that decision process work?
How would you triage a situation where you've got folks in a car that cannot get out and their vehicles on fire?
Nick Kalt: Good question. Let me give you my big picture before providing you with a smaller picture of a specific scenario. The big picture is why many previous military members make such good first responders, firefighters, police, and EMS. I’m referring to the decision tree, and many of these things tend to be the same.
In the fire service, we refer to it as an ICS, or incident command system. Basically, the idea is that the system expands or contracts based on the resources you need and the groups and divisions you need to assign to any particular problem. It's kind of a problem-solving method for whatever situation you throw at it.
The 80% solution and being biased toward action
It works in the military just as it does in the fire service. We're taught to evaluate a situation kind of at a snap judgment. Rather than wait for the 100% correct solution, you apply what we in the Marine Corps called the 80% solution. Enact a solution that you see as the best time-critical decision to mitigate the situation, and by mitigating, you can then reevaluate what to do next.
Brian Beckcom: It’s basically like buying yourself time.
Nick Kalt: Yeah, what we say in the fire service is that when you eliminate the fire, a lot of your other problems go away. So if you can insert yourself between a fire or an accident, you start mitigating that problem making the rest of the scenario more survivable
Brian Beckcom: It sounds like its similar to the 80% rule from the Marines. Taking some sort of action and not waiting around until you're a hundred percent sure of what you need to do something, but do something to essentially. In a way, it’s a 100% bias towards action.
Nick Kalt: That’s correct, it is. We have a couple of little acronyms in the fire services, just like in the Marine Corps that dictate what those actions should be, and life safety or rescue is always our number one priority. When I show up on a scene, my number one determining factor is based on where we need to put ourselves to make an effective rescue? How do we make this scenario survivable for the people that are being impacted by it?
That's really kind of the deciding factor that sets all the other wheels in motion, as far as scene management is concerned. Whether you're talking about a vehicle fire, house fire, vehicle accident, or an EMS call, the life safety portion is our number one problem to solve.
The strides being made in psychological and physical preparation for firemen and woman
Brian Beckcom: I have kind of a strange question that I want to ask you. Let me preface it by saying I've seen some pretty bad stuff. I've seen plenty of photographs of burned up vehicles where people were trapped inside, and I know you and your coworkers have seen it in person. Is there any sort of training or preparation for seeing the kind of reality as firefighters? I’m referring to the type of scenes that can cause people some PTSD.
I would imagine as a Marine Corps officer, you might be a little bit more resilient when it comes to things like that. How do you handle that for the firefighters that never been exposed to grotesque scenes with dead bodies?
Nick Kalt: Yeah, that's a terrific question. In the previous podcast we did, we talked a little bit about this and the concepts of the resilience of post-traumatic growth. I'm a huge believer in preparing yourself before showing up on the scene of something like this. Some of these scenes are not only gruesome, but they tear at your heartstrings. Everybody reacts differently to different situations, and I'm really susceptible to having a powerful, emotional reaction to incidents where children are injured or sick. I think it's related to having children of my own, and I'm sure you're probably in the same boat.
The truth is, everybody reacts differently to all these different scenarios. Unfortunately, there's no real way of knowing how you're going to respond until you’ve been in those types of situations. Another thing, once you think you'd seen it all, something else will come along and top it. I'm a huge proponent of preparing yourself mentally before being faced with a potentially gruesome situation. A lot of that preparation can be done with emergency scene simulations and imagining what it would be like in the real world.
I have a real good friend who’s a Lieutenant for the Boston fire department. His department was one of the first on the scene after the Boston Marathon bombing took place. When they arrived on the scene, it was absolutely chaotic. Before that event, he started to explore the concepts of hardening yourself physically and mentally to those types of situations prior to showing up on the scene. He actually coauthored a book called Fire Psyche that assists in preparing yourself mentally.
The concept is still in its infancy in the fire service. Whereas in the military and professional sports, the idea of mental preparation in advance of a grueling battle or game has been recognized as hugely beneficial for years now, maybe even decades. In those uses cases, they're sort of perfecting it. Whereas the fire service, we're starting to jump on board with it.
I talked to him a little bit about it, and he literally handed a copy of this book to all of his firefighters on the day that they responded to that emergency. He was frustrated at himself for not addressing this sooner with his guys.
The book covers everything from stopping negative thoughts, breathing techniques, and other strategizes that have allowed pro athletes to be at the very top of their game
Brian Beckcom: But you know, Nick, as I'm sitting here, I recall an incredibly tragic crash that happened almost two decades ago in Houston. It involved a family of five that had just picked up the Dad from the airport after returning from a business trip. As they were driving home, an 18 Wheeler tipped over on their vehicle, and everyone except the mother was burned alive before they could be rescued.
So I'm a little surprised that this concept of being prepared isn’t more advanced in the fire service as firefighters respond to those types of tragedies just as much, if not more like any other first responders, EMS police.
Nick Kalt: Yeah, but let me say this. Firefighting is a 200-year-old career unimpeded by progress. It is very entrenched and very steeped in tradition and history. I talked about this with another friend of mine who’s a Lieutenant for the FDNY in New York. We talked about some of the effects on Manhattan when it was kinda like ground zero with COVID. He saw more change in a daily 12-hour shift than he had seen in a decade there. Because just by the nature of the threat posed to them, you had to be that flexible. For an organization that hadn't seen a systemic change was now changing daily, and It was really kind of astounding. When it comes to psychological preparation within our organization, we have CISD or critical incident, stress debriefing. It is a team trained in helping get any psychological assistance you need, whether it's debriefing with them or with a professional.
We also do a lot of physical preparation through our wellness program. The program aims to educate us on practices such as adequate sleep and a healthy diet. It also covers the physical and mental preparation for the rigors of the job. The program also covers the concept of resilience and post-traumatic growth that you and I have spoken about. It’s a topic that I preach to my firefighters and feel should be taken on by everyone as a personal responsibility. It’s all about making yourself as capable as you can be to face the rigors of the job.
How wildland firefighting across the American West has changed dramatically over the last decade
Brian Beckcom: For sure. Well, Nick, let's talk about the wildfires. What do you refer to them as?
Nick Kalt: We refer to them in our fire department as wildland fires. A lot of the catchphrase right now is Wooeee, spelled WUI. It stands for a wildland-urban interface. Many of catastrophic cases of wildland fires are happening across the American West for several reasons, but due primarily to our climate. The fact is, the western part of America is very similar to the desert. It can be a high desert, towards the Rockies or, you know, low desert here. It doesn't seem like it since we're so close to the ocean, but we're genuinely a desert climate.
The combination of many different factors has created fire conditions in the American West over the past. I'd say precisely four to five unprecedented years, unlike any that we've seen before.
Brian Beckcom: I had an interesting experience while hiking in Colorado this summer. I usually hike in like the Beaver Creek, Vail Valley area. I hike up to the top of the different mountains, and this summer, I noticed it was as dry as I have seen it in 15 years. I mean, I felt like a spark would set the entire mountain off.
And as a matter of fact, there were several fires in Colorado when I was up there, including a big fire in Grand Junction started by an 18 wheeler driver throwing a cigarette butt out the window. There was another fire less than 10 miles from the Beaver Creek area, which threatened many expensive houses. I got to see helicopters and planes flying over a small fire in an attempt to quickly extinguish it. Because if that fire jumped across the highway, it was going to be an economic disaster. And so they were all over it.,The thing that really struck me the most, I just couldn't believe how bone dry it was. So is that kinda like how it is out West where you are?
Nick Kalt: It is. We haven't had measurable rainfall, I would say probably since April. That's not uncharacteristic for where I live and many of the regions out there. So you combine that with global warming and forest management over the past generations, and it's producing fire conditions that are more conducive to being started accidentally or even intentionally. Either way, these fires are moving far faster and far more intensely than we've seen in years. I'm not a wildland expert by any means, but talking to the folks that are, it sounds like this behavior was unprecedented.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah. I'm sitting there looking at my notes right next to me, and one thing I was going to ask you was what the causes of these fires are. In reality, these fires are probably happening due to a combination of forest and land management, climate change issues, and some of it is, is human behavior. For instance, the fire in the Grand Junction that burned 30,000 acres was a combination of all three. Clearly, without the trucker throwing the cigarette out, there's no fire. So that's the human component.
The global warming component could be the lack of rainfall for such a long time, which's not normal. And then you've got the management of the wilderness area. Maybe we aren't managing as well as we could.
The other thing, and perhaps you can speak to this a little bit, fire in and of themselves in the wilderness area can be useful. It's natural to have fires out there. So it's not like these fires all bad. I mean, gotta have some fires to clear out the junk and stuff. It’s a problem with these uncontrolled fires that I think is the difference now, right?
Nick Kalt: And again, they're moving at a pace that I think is unprecedented and intensely. As the population increases across the West, more and more people want homes out in the woods. So, you start running up against the problem of building homes where fires are much more likely to burn.
I talked about the city of Long Beach, where we don't have a lot of wildland, urban interface. And so as a result, we don't get wildland fires. However, when you're in an area that hasn't burned in a few years, you are a higher risk. Part of the natural cycle of forest replenishment is that they occasionally burn, and it's a challenge and a risk that some folks don't recognize when they move to those areas. The economic impact is massive because you talk about the rescue of those people or the protection of their homes. And now you're talking about millions of sometimes billions of dollars worth of resources to do that when you scale it up.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, that's for sure. Let me ask you this question. I was reading earlier this morning, and there's something now in California called a Giga fire, which sounds terrible. So what's a gig of fire?
Nick Kalt: And that's a great question, Brian & I don’t have an answer for that.
Brian Beckcom: I saw on the news, I guess it just means there's, there's some massive like they've combined different fires and combined or something, but had never heard that phrase before
Nick Kalt: Often, we'll call it a complex fire when two or more fires join up. What's crazy about these fires is that they generate their own weather systems when they burn intensely for long enough. It then perpetuates these cycles, so fires that are happening. Putting it in perspective, 5 of the largest fires on record in the state of California were still burning as of last week when I checked the Cal fire website. Incredibly, five of the most significant, most destructive fires of all time are actively burning in one fire season.
Brian Beckcom: What do you even do about those fires? I imagine fighting those fires would be drastically different than fighting fires inside the city of Long Beach. So like, what are they? How do those strategies differ? How are they the same?
Nick Kalt: They differ pretty dramatically with such a massive scope because there are hundreds and thousands of acres that these fires are burning.
The scope of the incident command system that we talked about, ICS, is responsible for seeing the big picture, which is just absolutely massive. With so many resources responding, it becomes a monumental task just to get people evacuated, let alone trying to stop this thing, to prevent it from doing any more damage.
And the coordination is on an Epic scale that I don't even fully understand just logistically. But you have a lot of different ground-level tactics that you can employ with the ultimate goal of preserving people's life safety and their property while stabilizing the incident.
Brian Beckcom: That seems very similar to the priority protocol when working with the Long Beach fire department. You prioritize human life first, let's get everybody out. Other than that, where do you even start? With fire as massive, I would just throw my hands up and not even know where to begin to get these things under control.
Nick Kalt: Again, this is not my area of real expertise, but I think the number one thing is just predictions. In predicting the fires based on fire behavior, weather, fuel, and getting the word out. Another thing is having people comply with these evacuation warnings and evacuation orders because life safety is our number one priority.
If you can get people out of the way of these freight trains moving towards them, that's the number one thing, and you do that based on predictive models. And granted, the modeling has changed over the past few years, but if you can predict this fire behavior based on predicted weather and predicted winds, then I think you're as far ahead of the game as you can get. The next thing is to allow the forest services to request the appropriate resources, get boots on the ground, and get that 80% solution in place.
And then a lot of these fires are too big to fight head-on. So you have to fight them from places where they've already burned, protect the structures that you can, and, unfortunately, write off areas where you cant. And if you can do that while providing for life safety, I think we consider that a win nowadays.
Brian Beckcom: In Colorado, where I stay, they clear cut a whole section of the mountain to create a firebreak. Is that part of the overall strategy too? Do you try to get rid of all the fuel that these fires are going to use? Or are these fires just too big really to do that?
Nick Kalt: Well, when you talk about getting rid of fuel, the reality is the fires themselves are what gets rid of it. They burn the fuel and the undergrowth that had been collected over the years. Just as we talked about the forest's natural replenishment, part of the healthy life cycle occasionally involves fire.
The forest service will admit that their fire mitigation strategy has been to stamp fires out over past generations before they get any headway. That strategy results in just a massive amount of fuel that will burn later. I think the forest service and other agencies have realized that fires are useful to a certain extent for the forest's health and provide a slightly reduced fuel load for the future.
When you talk about actually like, bringing trucks in and the logistical effort to remove undergrowth burn trees and trees felled from years previous. It's a massive undertaking, especially when you consider a lot of the terrain you're talking about operating within. I'm not sure how realistic that would be in terms of economical and logistically.
Brian Beckcom: I can't even imagine how they would go about it. You would have to remove so much stuff that it would be a massive undertaking. So in Texas, what we do all the time, to mitigate our mosquito and Cedar issues, we'll use fires. And that seems to be much more effective, much easier, frankly, than rooting them out.
So, maybe going forward, we need to start some fires ourselves to kind of clear stuff out. Of course, the problem is it's so dry, and you might create a fire that you think is easily controlled, and the next thing you know, it's out of control. So you have to be real careful about that. Right?
Nick Kalt: These guys are professionals, and I will say that the forest service and Cal Fire does an excellent job of planned burns. They call them prescribed burns and conduct them safely. They consider wind direction, weather conditions, and life safety issues for people who may live nearby. Ultimately, they provide a better solution for people's safety and the forest's wellbeing.
Brian Beckcom: How close are we to getting through the big fires out in the West? I mean, are we four months away, six months away? Are we going to be dealing with this for years? What's the future look like to you?
Nick Kalt: Everybody used to refer to it as a fire season. In California, fire season was bounded by the months the Santa Ana winds would blow from the four corners area. Lately, we see dry winds begin to blow any time from August till about November, with fires start cropping up in May, June, and through Christmas. So what was traditionally a two to three, maybe four-month fire season, has now expanded to an indefinite period. So I think we'll continue to burn until there's a significant amount of rainfall in the places affected by them, at least in California.
Brian Beckcom: Or they will just run out of fuel, right?
Nick Kalt: And, and I will say that many the fires, even though they're, they're burning and we talked about those five of the largest, you know, 15 fires still burning actively. That doesn't mean that they're burning uncontained. So when you can get the containment around them, that tends to dictate their behavior and the direction that they're going to burn a lot more when they're just burning uncontrolled and freely.
Brian Beckcom: I'm relatively sure that no one knows what the percentage is caused by global warming, forest management, or how much of it is human activity related to building in areas where we shouldn’t be. I hope that appropriate experts use this opportunity to find solutions for all of those activities and what we can do differently to improve the current issues we face. It worries me a little bit that everything nowadays, even the California fires, is politicized, and I hope we can get past this.
Well, Nick, I know we talked about getting you on for a quicker episode, but you're such an interesting guy, I knew we would take a little bit longer. I don't want to keep you any longer, and I am delighted you came on the show. I'm going to try to get this episode out as quickly as possible because I know people are very interested in this topic right now. Keep doing what you're doing, man, it's great to see you again, and I thank you for another hour of your time.
Thank you for everything, for serving our country in the Maries and continuing to serve in the fire department. Truly, thank you for everything you've done and for telling us what it's like to be a firefighter.
It makes me feel good frankly, and I know it'll make many other people feel good to see a guy like Nick Kalt is taking the lead on these sorts of things. So Nick, good to see you again, man. I hope everything's going well. If I can ever do anything for you, please don't hesitate to reach out to me, man.
Nick Kalt: I appreciate it, Brian. Thank you for having me. It's been my pleasure. I would like to touch on just one thing before we go regarding these fires. Unfortunately, they are of epic proportions, and I think it's how many things are currently trending in our world. I think there's an argument that can be made for and against global warming or for many reasons.
But all these things that we're facing nowadays are so complicated. There's not just one factor. I believe in global warming, whether listeners do or not is entirely up to them. But at the end of the day, I think being able to have a conversation and collaborate towards a solution is what will get us through them.
The collaboration, human connection, and the opportunity to connect with you and your listeners is such an honor. I appreciate it, and It gives me cause for self-reflection that, in the end, helps me view the world differently. So thank you.
Brian Beckcom: Thank you, Nick. Very much. We'll talk soon, man.