He Works Where the Devil Dances

Posted on: Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by Brent Treash

Robby Boles graduated in 2008 with a double-major in Environmental Science and Geography. He always had plans to work for the Department of Forestry, but he thought it would be in timber management.  These days he only thinks of fire.

Robby is a Natural Resource Specialist and Forestry Technician for the Virginia Department of Forestry, but he prefers to call himself a wildland firefighter.  He gets excited talking about fire, its behavior, how to stop it, what it accomplishes. “It fascinates me,” says Robby. And listening to him describe the work he does, you can tell he’s a complete adrenline junky. He says he loves fire season, and loves being on duty for 24 and 36 hours straight. He loves being the guy who rushes into a giant blaze. Forty-foot flames don’t make him cower – they excite him. When you ask him to tell a story of something wild and dangerous he struggles for an answer because all of it seems like normal day’s work.

He loves the team of firefighters he works with – others who get excited about the danger and the challenge.  He describes a recent trip home to Midlothian when he visited with an old friend who is doing similar work. He says they both talked excitedly about how much they loved their jobs and talked late into the evening telling stories of recent fires.  Meanwhile, their other high school friends talked about how much they hate their jobs, and they simply don’t seem to understand these guys whose faces light up when they talk about their work.

Robby says this is not something he had to learn to like. “The joke is that ‘they put a drip torch in my hand and I fell in love.’” (A drip torch, by the way, is a firefighter’s tool used to ignite fires for the purpose of supressing a fire.) So while many of Robby’s environmental studies classmates are working to keep the land green, Robby is on hand to take care of the land when it’s burning red and charring to black. 

Although he works for the Virginia Department of Forestry, he and his team get sent all over the country during fire season in order to work in the places where the most help is needed. This is part of the reason Robby loves the job so much. “I get paid to go to places that others never get to see; to hike and camp. The scenery is beautiful.” So in addition to the Virginia counties of Buchanan, Russell, Tazewell, Bland and Dickenson, he’s also been to Idaho and North Carolina and all parts in between.

Robby is a certified squad boss and incident commander which requires a lot of training and study, but he now is qualified to “run a fire” which means he will continue to get opportunities to travel to choice locations. He’s proficient with a chain saw, can operate a bulldozer, and knows how to run a Type 6 Wildland fire engine.  And in addition to all the work with fire suppression, he also gets called in for work after natural disasters – like the tornado in Glade Spring in 2011.

While Robby sounds like a bit of a daredevil truthfully, he’s just  a regular guy. His sparetime activities are just what you’d expect: he likes to hunt and fish and read non-fiction tales of military history. And, of course, his favorite work suit includes pants with a high ignition point.