The sun beat down on our caravan as we crept up the mountain, heading toward what would soon become our new home. Fondly referred to as the top of “the hill”, Crown King, Arizona rests in the Bradshaw Mountains about two hours south of Prescott (that’s “Press-kit” for all of you non-locals).
I watched anxiously as the driver in front of me broke around every corner, straightaway, and rock that lined the mountain. I was fortunate enough to be driving our cargo vehicle, a much better vehicle to traverse the bumpy road leading up to Crown King. Cooper and I slowed behind the 15-passenger, taking every opportunity to look off the side of mountain and across the vast, dry hills that made up our surroundings.
The occasional glance showed awe-struck grins across both of our faces. Twenty-six weeks and three days had passed since we found out we were being transferred from FEMA Corps to NCCC. All the while, the two of us waited impatiently for this exact moment. Fire Management had been the pinnacle of our AmeriCorps experience, the unattainable light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel that we thirsted for day in and day out during our first two round projects. Now that the moment was here, words were almost not enough.
Up the hill we went, past the bullet-hole stop sign outside of Crown King, over the bridge onto Main Street, until we found ourselves at the town’s center. The downtown district of Crown King was a bustling metropolis spanning less than a quarter mile of land and occupied by only four major town landmarks. The Crown King Fire Department rested at the center, surrounded by the General Store (home of the world-famous fudge!) and the Saloon. The large red structure that is the Saloon, with white, French-style doors and a quaint balcony, was right out of an Old Western.
As the week wears on, our appreciation for this little town only increases. The population of Crown King upon our arrival was approximately 80. With the addition of the FMT, we brought their town up to 100 residents. The locals have embraced us with wide-open arms, making us dinner once a week or stopping by with food, offering to open businesses additional hours or host special events, or providing us with insight on what the town has to offer. Once adjusted to the altitude, the mountains have become our playground. PT sessions are spent hiking up hills to find clear views of Arizona and, in our off hours, we explore every dirt path that could be a trailhead, finding boulders to climb over and spots to hang up a hammock and relax.
Work is no longer a chore, as many of our previous round projects had become. Trainings can be long and dry, but they are always broken up with hands-on activities to help make the classroom lessons practical. Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses, dispatching and emergency medical calls, Incident Commanders and communication systems, helipad divisions, checking vitals and refilling air tanks. The list of what we’ve learned has continued to grow so quickly that it’s difficult to keep track of.
Friday night was our first official day on call. Squad Alpha, my smaller team of five, was put on call first. We slept in our living room together huddled around the dispatching radio, waiting for a call. At our other home, another teammate of mine served as the dispatcher for the night. Incidents rolled in and we listened to him dispatch others out to the scene. It was a surreal experience listening to him put our training to use and we couldn’t help but feel pride for his success as a dispatcher. Soon, we would all have a dispatching shift, and another, and another. The Crown King Fire Department gives us more responsibilities than any project I have ever heard of and it’s been rewarding knowing that they trust us with things as important as responding to emergency calls and dispatching.
–These views do not represent the views of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, but rather the opinions of a Corps Member whose patience has been tried throughout her year of service–
Despite the responsibilities the Crown King Fire Department has entrusted on us, the team can’t help but recognize the growing battle between our success with this project and the organization we work for. This project has become more of an actual job as the fire department treats each of us as one of their own. We’re being trained on how to work for the Fire Department, how to be one of them. The extent of what we’ve learned is far more than what any of us have experienced on other projects, and it’s left most of us feeling like this is a full-time job.
With most full-time jobs, you don’t come home to reflection activities, team meetings, peer helper activities and required independent service projects. At the end of each day, though, we’re asked to return home and to the AmeriCorps world that awaits us. WPRs explaining what each team position did that week, team meetings to address deadlines for team positions, peer helper activities to tie us together better; these are all a part of our nearly daily routine despite exhaustion from our daily tasks. This is normal for AmeriCorps, but when trusted with more responsibility than we’ve ever experienced here, it’s hard not to grow resentful and feel the pain of being treated like children that so many of us have felt from campus before.
I can accept the required activities from campus and haven’t been as bothered as I thought I would be about them. What really stands out to me, though, is the clashing of AmeriCorps rules against what we are here to accomplish.
Being on call means the Fire Department has the ability to call us at any hour of the night to respond to an incident. We live at the top of a hill, approximately a five-minute drive from the town’s center. AmeriCorps rules dictate we can’t drive the vans past midnight, meaning our first on-call shift had us signing off at 23:59 instead of 0800 the next morning.
Corporation rules say members can’t serve longer than a consecutive year. Cooper and I, as well as three other FEMA transfers on FMT, began service on August 12th, 2014. This project ends on the 19th of August. Despite what will likely be an imminent fire season during August, the five of us will likely be sent home early, denying us the opportunity to finish out our term of service with our new family and help out during an important time in Crown King. This rule has left me feeling like the rules are deemed more important than the service work, especially due to the lack of explanation given to each of us for why we have to terminate our year of service earlier than we signed up for.
The last, and likely largest consistent struggle during my time in AmeriCorps, comes down to hours. To graduate you need 1700 hours of service made up of a smaller portion of training hours, at least 80 independent service project hours, and the rest being direct service. If you get 1800 hours, you can earn a Presidential Award. Training hours cap off at a certain point, a point that myself and the FEMA transfers reached months ago. Unknowingly to us, all of the hours that we have put in to this project have been deemed training hours and not direct service, meaning none of the hours we have logged since getting to Crown King count towards anything. Direct service hours are earned when work is done that directly relates to the service you are doing, but due to AmeriCorps rules the hours we’re logging towards learning about our project are being considered training even though typical project orientation is considered direct service.
These little rules have served as reminders for me as to why I sometimes thirst for the freedom I had before the program. The clash has left me feeling useless to the Fire Department and incapable of accomplishing many tasks that they’re relying on us for. None of us want to let our project sponsor down, especially after the extreme hospitality we’ve experienced just within our short week here. However, as the AmeriCorps side of things continues to call and push forward their rules and regulations, we’ve been finding ourselves increasingly constrained in the success we can experience while working here.