Lakeville firefighter returns from wildfires with new friends, perspective

Sep 13, 2023

LAKEVILLE – When Lakeville Fire Department Call Firefighter Brian Procida battles blazes in Lakeville, the smoke might be visible for three or four miles.

The smoke from the fires he helped fight in Canada could be seen in the form of a hazy, smoggy sky some 500 miles away.

Procida was recently deployed to Quebec to help fight some of the 70 wildfires that have been burning since June. Immediately afterward, he was sent to Montana to help extinguish fires in that state.

Procida works for the Department of Conservation and and Recreation wildland firefighting team.

The biggest obstacle to wildfires, he explained, is access. A fire off Route 140 can often be encircled and put out in 30 to 45 minutes.

Wild fires, he noted, are not so straightforward.

“In a major fire, you might not have roads,’’ he said. Instead, the team might need to hike three to five miles into the woods, giving the fire at least an hour’s head start to burn and spread.

And this isn’t a leisurely shorts-and-sandals trek. Donned in gear weighing five to 10 pounds, Procida often carried 15 pounds of water in his backpack.

Being in good shape is crucial, he said. “It’s definitely a laborious process,’’ he said.

The days are long. Procida worked 12 hour-days in Canada and 16-hour schedules in Montana.

“You wake up, you eat, you go to work, you go to bed,’’ he described the schedule.

But as with firefighters everywhere, the groups in Canada and Montana forged a tight bond. He met fellow firefighters from New Mexico, Oregon, California, Minnesota and Washington, among other locations.

“Being a family, we’re always watching out for each other,’’ he said. “If someone is sick or cannot carry as much weight, we take the weight’’ for them.

His work included putting out hot spots before they could reignite.

More than one sense is used for this, he said. In addition to spotting flames, he could smell underground flames before they could break through to the surface.

“You follow your nose,’’ he said. 

He was a long way from Lakeville, but family and friends back home remained on his mind and served as motivation.

The smoke that permeated much of the country was “one of our biggest concerns,’’ he said.

“The more we can put out the fire, the better [the situation is] for everyone at home.’’

Through the hard work of the wildfire crews,  community members hundreds of miles south, he said, would “not be in the line of the smoke and have to breathe it.’’