An Interview with a Pulaski

Uploaded by BLMNIFC on 05.11.2012

Narrator: The Pulaski is one of the most common tools used by wildland firefighters.
These tools are versatile, highly effective, and as the National Interagency Fire Center
found out in this interview remarkably glib.
Narrator: Glad to meet you. That's an unusual name, pulaski. Where did you get it?
Pulaski: That name comes from my inventor, Ed Pulaski, a forest ranger in the early days
of the Forest Service in Northern Idaho. He was a descendant of the Polish General Casimir
Pulaski, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Old Ed was a thinker, and he saw a need for
a strong, heavy duty combination fire tool. So he started fiddling around in his blacksmith
shop and viola! He invented my great, great grandfather.
Narrator: So tell us: What is a pulaski? What do you do?
Pulaski: I'm a firefighting tool. I'm designed with an axe blade on one side and a heavy
scraping blade on the other. My head is made from high carbon steel, which really holds
an edge. My handle is usually made from hickory or oak, which gives me strength and resiliency.
If I may say so, Iím a compact bundle of raw cutting power.
Narrator: And youíre so humble.
Pulaski: It ainít bragging if itís true.
Narrator: So youíve seen a lot of fire in your day.
Pulaski: Oh yeah. Iíve been on some big ones.
Narrator: When and where were you built?
Pulaski: I was manufactured in a factory in Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina back in 1995.
My steel was recycled from a wrecked SUV and some old hot water piping. By the way, most
of us pulaskis are made in that Lake Waccamaw factory. What a great place to grow up!
Narrator: Delicate question here, but what is the lifespan of the average pulaski?
Pulaski: You know, that really depends on our users. Some crews dig a lot more fireline
than others, and some individual firefighters are tougher on their tools than others. If
youíre picked up by a guy who really likes to cut fire line, youíre going to have to
be sharpened more often. The more frequently a Pulaski gets sharpened, the quicker we wear
down. Iíve been lucky, I guess. My blade is still pretty long, even though Iíve spent
17 years in this business.
Narrator: How hard is it to use a Pulaski?
Pulaski: Weíre not that hard to useóif a firefighter has been trained right. One of
my pet peeves is getting beat up on rocks by some rookie. I mean, using me to chop a
root and hitting a rock, well, that can happen to anybody. But in rocky soil, it ainít that
hard to be nice to your Pulaski. SCRAPE the fuels, for gosh sakes!
Narrator: What is it like when you are out on the fireline?
Pulaski: Itís usually hot and dusty. Sometimes, all you see is dust, dirt and rocks day in
and day out. But I tell youÖwhen you are way up on a mountain and the view is terrific,
nothing beats that. And once youíve completed the fireline phase of the job, mop-up sometimes
is a lot of fun. During mop-up, most of my job is chopping embers off of logs and digging
up smoldering fuels. But sometimes I get to cut down a lot of smaller burned trees, and
that is satisfying work. At the end of the day, I put my tool guard on knowing that Iíve
made a real contribution to getting a fire under control.
Narrator: Where do most pulaskis live in the off-season?
Pulaski: A lot of us vacation in fire caches and warehouses over the winter. If youíve
never reclined on a comfortable tool rack during those cool, quiet and dark days of
winter, thereís nothing like it. You can almost forget the heat, the banging, and the
intense glare of the summer sun. One winter, I was sharp and I had a fresh coat of paint,
and I met this cute shovel--
Narrator: Thanks, but we donít really need to hear about your personal life. My sources
tell me you are also a skydiver. Whatís up with that?
Pulaski: I spent several years on an engine crew, which was a good way to break into the
business. After that, I was picked up by a hotshot crew and bummed my way around the
country for several fantastic seasons. Then I spent a good three years in the cache system.
Thatís something every tool should do at least once in its life. After that, I got
put in a smokejumper cargo box. That was an unbelievable job. Parachuting into a fire
is a serious rush. I had to hang that up when I got a nasty handle injury though. I had
a quiet couple of years on a prevention truck. Didnít fight a lot of fires in those years,
but I met a lot of nice people. Since then, Iíve been back on an engine crew.
Narrator: What is the toughest fuel model youíve run into while fighting a fire?
Pulaski: Well, while I was a hotshot, we went to fires in Southern California now and then.
Man, there is nothing like fighting fire in that chaparral and manzanita! I have never
had to cut through so much brush in my life! And those fires can flat get after it.
Narrator: Fires can be really dangerous. Have you ever feared for your life on a fire?
Pulaski: Iíve had some close shaves. I got some burning pitch on my blade once or twice.
That hurt! But the scariest moment was when I was a Hotshot. My crew had to take shelter
in a safety zone and I got left in some dry grass on the outer edge of the safety zone.
The fire burned past me, but fortunately, I was only singed on my handle. No big deal.
My crew member fixed me up. By the way, if you are ever tired and sore, I recommend a
massage with 220 grit sandpaper and a nice linseed oil rubdown. Works wonders.
Narrator: Who is your hero?
Pulaski: I had the privilege of working several years with an old crosscut saw while I was
jumping. That guy had seen everything! He had forgotten more about felling snags than
I knew. He taught me some of the finer points of wilderness firefighting. He started in
the business way back in the 1930s and rode many a pack mule into fires.
I guess he finally snapped in two on a fire on the Medicine Bow National
Forest a few years back. I still miss that guy.
Narrator: It sounds like youíve had a long and interesting career.
Pulaski: Fireís a good lifeóif you like to work hard, travel and donít mind getting
dirty. For the young hatchets watching out there, who knows? Once you grow up, you might
find yourself up on the firelines someday.