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    Firefighter Experience Fans Flames of USU Student’s Pursuit of Military Medicine



    Story by Vivian Mason 

    Uniformed Services University

    Air Force 2nd Lt. Kyle Carr has always been about adrenaline-pumping adventure.

    A competitive downhill mountain biker, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and a wildland firefighter, this member of the Uniformed Services University School of Medicine’s class of 2026 likes to balance risk with positive impact and service.

    Although Carr participated in downhill mountain biking competitions in college, worked as a bike patroller in Colorado performing cost-free emergency care for mountain bikers and others in distress, did contract and volunteer ambulance EMT work, and served as a camp medic for the Boy Scouts, it was his job as a wildland firefighter that provided both the largest adrenaline rushes and best opportunities to serve.
    Carr says he generally finds himself drawn toward service-oriented work, but specifically became interested in firefighting after the 2018 “Carr Fire” in northern California’s Shasta and Trinity counties.

    “The area where the fire started was named after my great-grandfather,” he says. Francis Carr was a prominent judge responsible for establishing a number of important projects in the region, and was the namesake of the local powerplant and road on which the fire originated.

    “This wildfire burned 229,651 acres before it was contained. It was the ninth most destructive fire in California history.”

    Carr adds that while he is from northern California originally, he was still in Colorado at the time of the fire, but immediately felt the call to serve.

    “It came up on my phone before I actually got a call from anyone notifying me of the fire. I had a lot of family in the area, and a dozen family members got evacuated because of it. I had prior experience as an EMT. After that fire, I applied for jobs all over the country to work as a wildland firefighter, but ended up returning to California. In my second season, I actually worked on the same helitack crew that my uncle had worked on 50 years before me, and that was very special.”

    Wildland firefighters, working primarily in forest and range environments, are trained to fight and help prevent wildfires. These firefighters are involved with wildland fire suppression, management, and control. They also work on fire engines, helicopters, or handcrews. Two types of wildland firefighters are “smokejumpers” (because they parachute into remote fire scenes) and “hotshots” (because they work in the hottest part of wildfires and are known as elite hand crews who are experts in fighting fire with fire).

    “I was ‘helitack’ (a combination of helicopter and attack), which are teams of wildland firefighters who are transported by helicopters to wildfires,” says Carr.

    The main job of the helicopter is to carry water and take the heat out of a fire. But, in remote areas, they’re crucial for transporting firefighters and cargo.

    “Water takes away the heat,” says Carr, “be it from a garden hose or a 1,200-gallon Chinook bucket. Firefighters on the ground use chainsaws and hand tools to take away the fuel by ‘falling’ trees, scraping down to mineral soil, and getting rid of everything in between. Sometimes, we intentionally burn chunks of land. You can’t starve a fire out with air resources alone.”

    To become a wildland firefighter, Carr had to complete a rigorous physical test called the Arduous Work Capacity Test, also known as the “Pack Test.” Each potential firefighter must complete a three-mile hike while carrying 45 pounds of gear in 45 minutes or less to prove that they can endure the physical stress demanded by the job.

    “We usually have about 35-40 pounds of gear on our backs,” Carr remarks, describing a large backpack filled with necessities. “But it’s closer to 50 pounds with a chainsaw.”

    From there, Carr took a three-day Firefighter Type 2 course before finally receiving his “red card,” which made him an official resource.

    “The first season I was on an engine,” Carr explains. “In the second season I was eligible to be hired on a helicopter. You need a year’s experience, and you have to be comfortable with fire. I just wanted to help people and be of service to my community.”

    Carr says being a good firefighter is really just about grit and the ability to endure “hot, exhausting, hard work.”

    “Being a great team player, being resilient, and having a strong work ethic are also important. It’s not running and gunning all the time. Often, you’re waiting around for something to happen.”

    But when things pop, Carr says “you have to be ready to move quickly and stay flexible,” and says refining that ability has come in handy studying military medicine at USU.

    Carr knew his drive toward service would always eventually lead to medicine. After studying health and exercise science as an undergrad, he initially thought he wanted to become a physician’s assistant before realizing he had more to offer.

    “I figured out that I wanted to be the go-to person on really complex cases,” he explains, “because I always found myself taking the lead with patients who were in dire condition.”

    It was then, Carr says, that he decided to go to medical school, and in Ireland, while working on a master’s degree in applied multilingualism, an Air Force pilot friend of Carr’s told him about a school that educates military doctors, the Uniformed Services University.

    “The more I talked to people in the military community,” Carr says, “the more I felt like it was the right place for me.”

    And he was prepared to put in the hard work. As a firefighter, Carr always worked a minimum of 10-hour shifts, and sometimes even longer for “campaign fire” shifts.

    “Normally, you work about 16 hours per day, and you’re with your crew all the time. Being away from home the better part of half the year is difficult. While on the helitack crew, I worked 1,700 hours in six months and got COVID before the vaccine was developed. When you get days off, it’s nice to hang out with family and enjoy what you can of summer. The longest I ever went with no day off was 28 days.”

    Carr explains that his past work as a firefighter also came with a lot of new “on-the-job lingo,” which prepared him for the communication necessary to become a military doctor.

    “Becoming a firefighter is somewhat like learning a new language,” says Carr. “It’s important to communicate well. This helps keep everyone safe, and enables you and your team to do your work successfully. When things go bad around fire or aircraft, it always happens quickly.”

    And from experience, Carr knows how quickly he needs to spring into action when duty calls, recalling a firefighting experience when he was “walking across the fire” with his crew to work on a new assignment they had been given.

    “It was really hot and very steep,” Carr says. “Toward the end of the day, 90-foot flames jumped up about 50 feet in front of us. The fire really roared and ran uphill for at least a couple of football fields until all the remaining trees had been torched, losing their pine needles in an instant.”

    He confesses that the experience was particularly scary “because I was already exhausted and wasn’t going to move as fast as those flames. After waiting it out for a minute, my crew just walked through. Normally, fires have well-defined hot edges. The middle of it is colder, and it’s generally a safe place to be. But that fire had islands of fuel left everywhere yet to burn.”

    Carr’s thankful to have found a place in USU that allows him to fully channel everything he’s learned from life up to this point into his studies and ambitions toward being a military physician.

    “USU encourages creativity in a way that almost doesn’t exist in civilian medicine,” Carr concludes, “and I’d like to carry that into addressing the many challenges of military health care that I’ll encounter as an Air Force doctor.”



    Date Taken: 05.02.2023
    Date Posted: 05.03.2023 10:43
    Story ID: 443918

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