Alex Stevenson: May 2013

Alex Stevenson died last week.  He was a CAL FIRE engineer in Sonoma-Lake-Napa. I did not know him well. He was in charge of an engine company on  one of my divisions some years ago.  I have not held an overhead position on hot line since 2005, so it was before then.  In any case, Alex was part of a strike team that did a very good job on the division that had been assigned to me, and I remember him for his part in the job on that strike team that made me look like a tactical genius.  Hard work by dedicated crews are what put fires out.  Nothing else!  There are no “Fire Gods.”  There are just people who are sometimes in charge of a piece of line (or a whole fire) who know how to correctly use the work that CAL FIRE crews can produce.  The real heroes are those on the line, not those directing them.

At times, we all put our lives on the line for the people we protect.  Sometimes it costs us everything we have, including our lives. Thus is the case with Alex.  I know he was a good firefighter.  I watched him work.  I wish I had known him as a man.  But that is not what I want to discuss in this piece.

Alex was alive until his last breath.  He never gave up!  The man fought until the very end.  He had an undefeatable enemy, but that didn’t stop him from fighting, just as each of us fights what is sometimes an undefeatable enemy on hot line. Alex was one of us.  He still is!  He represents all of us in this dangerous endeavor we have taken as our calling.  We know when to fight and when to run.  Sometimes, we cannot back off.  Other lives are at stake and we cannot leave even though we may die with those we protect.  This was the attitude that Alex used in his last battle.

There was a tumor trying to take Alex’s life, and indeed the tumor won in the end.  Alex’s approach to fighting that tumor was to name it “Chet.”  When I heard that Alex had named his tumor, it truly took my breath away.  This was a person who knew how to fight.  His enemy had a name and he was going to fight it to the end, which he did to his last breath.  The fact that he named his enemy is an indication of the level that Alex fought.  He never gave up.  Never!  Alex approached the end of his time here the same way he dealt with life.  He embraced each second that was allotted to him with every fiber in his body.   I love this man though I probably never shook his hand.  All of us lost when he died and each of us would be well advised to live our lives as he did.

Our time here is short, a fact each of us must understand.  Alex used the time he was allotted in an amazing manner.  We must follow his lead.  Despite our age, young or old, we do not know how much time we have here; we don’t know what that burning warehouse has in store or what the fire that is laying down in the ravine will do in the next few moments.  We don’t know what the driver who has had a bit too much to drink will do when he/she sees all the flashing lights up ahead, nor what members of the public we protect will do when confronted with a life threatening emergency.  Any of these can take our lives.  Each of us must remember that our days are numbered.  The way Alex dealt with his life, and his death, should be a signpost to us all.  We are here but a moment and then we are gone.  We must remember those who have gone before us.  Let us try to live our lives as Alex did.

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