Healthspan & Financialspan

A new term for financial health and a firefighting story.

We got back from Australia mid-day Thursday. The journey back was interesting, another passenger on our from from SYD to LAX had a medical problem and I helped out as an EMT which is a whole other story and will be a great memory for the rest of my life. I've had a tough time getting back on schedule due to seasonal allergies that wait until 11:30 or midnight to kick in, keeping me up for a while.

My plan for the Good Friday holiday was to do some work-related reading, catch up on some fire department stuff and hopefully nap whenever I got sleepy. All was going as hoped until a little after 3pm I got a text asking if there was a wildfire here followed by another text with pictures of the smoke taken by a neighbor as well as a phone call and my wife telling me that a fire was being reported on Facebook. The fire was four miles from my house going north, just outside of our primary service area and the Forest Service was already on scene.

Whenever there is a fire nearby, people here reasonably get worried about whether their homes could be lost. The probability of a wildfire moving from north to south is quite low but it can happen of course. Wanting to relay information about the fire out through our Facebook page, I went down to the station and hopped into one of our trucks with another firefighter to hopefully get a sizeup (details of the fire) and to observe the fire behavior first hand in order to give an accurate report to the community. The Incident Commander (IC) was someone I've known for a little over seven years so the conversation was easy and helpful. I got what I needed and was able to get a sense of the wind and the fire behavior. I took a few pictures to be able to give a visual sense of what was happening and then we were just about ready to leave.

Just as we were about to leave, the Captain from one of the Forest Service engines came up to me and said "you guys are tied in with us" meaning we were going to be working with his crew. "Um ok, cool." I had zero expectation of getting assigned to the fire, I told our dispatch as much when I called out that we were going to check it out. I was not feeling exhausted but I was very aware of my lack of sleep and thought to myself "ok, let's see how this goes." Most crew-members on these types of engines are in their 20's (I'm 53) and are essentially professional hikers and our first task involved a lot of hiking. We were told to take hose from the engine to the fireline to put in what is called a hose lay (in conjunction with digging a fireline around the fire, sequence of hoses is often put around the fire to put it out, when that is the appropriate tactic). A common way to carry hose is to slide as many rolls as you can carry down the handle of whatever tool you're using (shovel, hoe, McLeod, Pulaski, combi), throw it over your shoulder almost like a solider carrying a rifle and then start hiking.

We all grabbed two rolls and started moving. Very quickly in, it became apparent that I was going to have a good day despite the lack of sleep. We got this load of hose to where it was supposed to go but it was not enough, we needed a lot more. "Um ok, cool." On the second trip most of us carried three rolls, one dude had four but I was good with three. This second batch had to go much further in and around the fire. My colleague (who is older than me) and I kept up just fine, I never really lost my breath other than one hill that was difficult for everyone. We then put in the hose lay and after that we lined out to look for any spot fires on the back side of the fire, this is more hiking. All in I hiked 4.7 miles (per my phone). We were released shortly after 8pm so all in we worked on the fire for about four hours. I doubt I can convey how much fun I had.

In the last few months I've been learning about healthspan which is being able-bodied enough to keep doing the things you enjoy doing. If you're lucky enough to have a long healthspan then you'll be able-bodied enough to do what you enjoy to an older age than might be expected like my former neighbor with a backhoe being able to fight his last fire at the age of 75. While you have no reason to care about the things I enjoy and hope to be able do to a much older age you have things that you like to do and that you probably hope to continue with to a much older age. I occasionally share these types of stories because I think it is important that if someone (me) is going to talk the talk (write about it) they should also walk the walk.

This concept can apply to how we live our financial lives. If you are physically fit, then just about every other aspect of your life will be easier. The same applies to being financially fit. If you can build a life you love that costs less money than you make, you arguably are increasing your financialspan, making every other aspect of your life easier. And so it is with the various things we have talked about in this realm for many years now, almost 15. Living below your means gives a greater margin for error in the face of unexpected large expenses, unexpected changes in job situations, it means you don't have to take unnecessary risks in your portfolio and so on. Maybe bigger is the idea that the financial independence that goes with a healthy financialspan very likely removes a large source of chronic stress for many people; worrying about having enough money. How many marital fights are over money? You're likely to have far fewer of those fights when you make more than you spend. This is not about being rich. In many instances (I concede there are no absolutes) this is behavioral, we learn as children about the importance of saving money, it then becomes a matter of actually doing it. We'll explore financialspan in future posts but for now, another Australian fire truck.

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