A look into the lives of student firefighters

fire john.jpg
Photo courtesy John Wilson. John Wilson, junior criminal justice major, (middle) at a fire site in Northern California with Firestorm group members.

John Wilson and Brad Braswell met at the age of 10. They went to the same elementary, middle and high school. Their friendship continued to develop, bringing them closer together through similar interests which eventually led them to the same career.

“We like most of the same sports teams and we both are pretty active and enjoy the outdoors,” Braswell, junior undeclared major, said. “I think our common interests have kept us close over the years.”

Wilson and Braswell committed to Chico and moved up north together from Bakersfiled. At the end of their first year in college, they were presented with a firefighting opportunity.

“I wanted to become a firefighter to help mold me into a better man,” Wilson, junior criminal justice major, said.

Their last two summers have been spent fighting fires with Firestorm, part of the Wildland Fire Suppression Incorporation.

“We share a lot more valuable memories and we can relate similarly,” Braswell said. “We’re a lot closer as friends after our firefighting experience.”

Tours can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. All of the firefighters slept at their base during the extensive training and worked difficult, long hours.

“It’s a lot to handle physically and mentally,” Wilson said. “Some days I would get homesick, but I knew that this commitment I made would make a positive difference.”

Wilson said the first time helping put out a forest fire was eye-opening and powerful.

“It could be really scary at times,” Wilson said. “Smoke impairing your vision and burning flames all around you. It was for sure more exciting than scary though, like an adrenaline rush.”

Braswell said that due to the long training days and dangerous situations they were immersed in, he was thankful to have gone through the experience with a friend who provided constant support.

“It was cool to have John there with me because in stressful situations, we could always rely on one another,” he said. “It was nice to have someone to talk with all the time too.”

From growing up down the street from each other to fighting fires together, Braswell and Wilson have shared many experiences that have made them better firefighters and companions.

“For as long as I can remember, we’ve been friends,” Wilson said. “I can rely on him and I know he has my back too.”

Julie Ramos can be reached at [email protected] or @julie_ramoss on Twitter.