USA — Doug Chamberlains smile is contagious. It spreads from ear to ear, reflecting his new direction in life and a sense of pride in his accomplishments.
Chamberlain, 47, took a leap of faith this past spring. After serving as a pastor for 18 years, he resigned from his position at Federal Ways Calvary Lutheran Church to pursue wildland firefighting. Chamberlain didnt lose faith. He simply needed a change of pace.
Id kind of been struggling with being a pastor, he said. I have a really hard time working inside.
During a hunting trip in fall 2009, Chamberlains mind was heavy with thoughts of his future. He saw a U.S. Forest Service rig and stopped to learn more about the agency. The decision was life-changing.
I can still remember almost literally slapping my forehead and saying Duh, why not do this? Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain spent this past summer working for the Department of Natural Resources fighting wildland fires out of Goldendale, Wash. The crew fought fires in Klickitat County, including the Highway 8 blaze near Lyle, Wash. Long days and grueling physical demands were exactly what Chamberlain was looking for. He discovered a fascination and respect for fire an element he describes as almost like a living creature and is loving being a firefighter.
Its a blast. And its addicting, he said.
Firefighting is treating Chamberlain well. Hes lost more than 30 pounds in the past year. He glows with excitement when he talks about his new endeavor and its apparent that hes proud of what hes accomplished.
Its been very good for me, Chamberlain said. Not very many people would start over on what seems like a completely different path, he said.
Chamberlain didnt grow up dreaming of becoming a firefighter, but wildland fire helped shaped his life. The former pastor was raised in Wallace, Idaho a town hit by the historic August 1910 fire. Chamberlains great-grandfather helped fight the Big Blowup of 1910. Firefighting runs in the family.
Chamberlain comes from a place where hard laborious work is valued. He fondly remembers summers as a youth mining silver, working on a farm and splitting wood with his father. Yet, he always imagined hed end up in a white collar profession. Its taken almost two decades, but Chamberlain has finally slid out from behind his work desk and returned to his roots.
The decision to abandon his life as a pastor was not an easy one. Chamberlains heart was no longer in his job. He knew this and his congregation could feel it as well.
They could see I wasnt exactly firing on all cylinders, Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain now has a new role within Calvary Lutheran Church. He still attends services and attentively listens as the churchs remaining pastor his wife, Lori A. Cornell gives her sermon. Hes getting used to no longer spreading his blessing at weddings, births, funerals and so on.
The path ahead is sure to be tough. Chamberlain attends firefighting classes at Green River Community College. His opportunities for wildland firefighting on a permanent basis are limited. Most long-term positions are with federal agencies. They require firefighters to begin their career before age 37. Being too old to land a permanent position, Chamberlain will either need to reapply each year for a temporary position, such as the one he held this past summer with the DNR, be hired on with a tribal or a contract fire crew, or become a wildland fire educator.
Whatever firefighting path he ends up taking, Chamberlain plans to remain a presence in the wilderness.
I dont want to climb too high because it will put me right back into a desk, he said.