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Margo Ward does not want this to be about her. It's the crew. The Crew. Once and forever.
Note to Margo: Sorry. We're all suckers for the "local kid makes good" stuff. And when the local kids go heroic, well, we blast trumpets and shoot confetti.
And so it was one day last week when Ward, a Mystic native and resident, was back in her hometown. Safe. Which, you'll learn, bears significance.
Ward was part of a 20-member volunteer crew from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that returned recently from fighting the wildfires in northern California. There's the lyric to the old song, "she ran calling Wildfire," you may recall. Margo Ward runs putting them out.
She left Aug. 5. She returned Aug. 22. No showers for extended days. Imminent danger.
And loving it.
"It's my favorite thing to do," she said one day last week, now five years removed from an Environmental Sciences Degree from the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and almost 10 since graduating from Fitch High, where she was 17th in her class and a member of the girls' basketball team.
This is her favorite thing to do:
"We had 14 working days," she said. "The typical day, we are up at 4 or 4:30. If you are at a camp, there's a hot breakfast. If you're spiked out (roughing it, little to no resources) it's whatever you carry in, or whatever a helicopter drops. Breakfast is at 5. Then an incident briefing. They get tools ready and you get your assignment, either taking a bus or hike or a combination, to where you are working. You do your assignment and head back at 7 or 8 at night.
"In a large camp," Ward said, "they bring in portable showers. If you are spiking out, you don't. You bring lots of baby wipes. This trip was a combination. We were spiked out a couple of different times. If (nature calls) it's the woods."
And to think that some of us consider "roughing it" having no mint on the pillow that night at the Marriott. Ward and the crew are subject to nature's whims, knowing that sometimes, nature is a mother.
"It's definitely a concern," Ward said, later admitting she'll go days losing contact with the rest of the world. "But I also have lot of confidence in my training and the leaders of our crew. (The danger) is always close in our minds, though."
And what of poor Jo and Gil, Ward's parents? Jo works at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. Gil works for the Navy. You spend your life imparting wisdom to your children, reminding them to see bigger pictures and having deeper senses of obligation to things beyond their self-interests.
And the reward for the Wards?
Their daughter listened.
Now she's in the middle of the forest, the only female on the crew sometimes, with fires burning.
"It's my favorite thing to do because I get to be a part of something that's so huge and so beyond anything in my normal life," she said, alluding to her job in the Water Permitting Department of the DEEP. "You're saving the forest, the environment, lives. And the people you are with? It's like being on the best team in the world. I loved being part of the team in basketball. This is above and beyond."
Ward said the training involves a five-day course, various other classes and the physical standard: a three-mile walk carrying 45 pounds in under 45 minutes.
It wasn't long until Ward knew her way around chainsaws, shovels, a "combi tool" (a rake and a straight edge), wearing Nomex (standard firefighting gear) and a Pulaski, sort of a two-headed axe, which can dig soil and chop wood.
Sorry again, Margo. But this is terrific stuff. Ward is one of about "four or five" females, she said, in the state's 80-person crew.
And she's all ours.
"These fires are huge," Margo Ward said. "You just have a small piece."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.