StoryCorps: Mother-Son Firefighters Driven By Danger Ian Bennett followed in his mother's footsteps when he joined the Forest Service. The pair later fought an active fire together in Oregon's Elkhorn Mountains.

She Was His Crew Boss — And His Mom — On The Fire Line

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In StoryCorps today, Connie Mehmel has been fighting wildfires in Washington state since the late 1970s. Her son Ian followed in her footsteps. The two sat down at StoryCorps to talk about working side by side on the fire line.

CONNIE MEHMEL: I've often seen fathers and sons together on the fire line, but to my knowledge, we were the first mother and son. And I was, at one time, your fire crew boss.

IAN BENNETT: You'd been telling me what to do my whole life. So if you were my crew boss, it wasn't any different.

MEHMEL: And I believe I took you on your first fire.


MEHMEL: But I told you when we left not to call me Mom. Because if you call me Mom, then everybody's going to start calling me Mom.


MEHMEL: We had a couple of days when we were on Sloan Ridge where we had to walk for two hours before we got to the fire.

BENNETT: Yeah, I remember those - wandering around in the woods and all. It was pretty.

MEHMEL: But it was dangerous, too. You were 19 years old, and it was a very active fire - thousands of acres. We one night had to evacuate fire camp. There was stuff falling. The footing was uncertain. Other mothers have asked me if it didn't frighten me that you were a firefighter. I would be devastated if anything happened to you, but I have a lot of confidence in you. And I've always valued a certain amount of excitement in life. But excitement often means danger.


MEHMEL: I once got to see a tree that the wind from the fire twisted up off the stump, lifted it up in the air and threw it back down again. There are things you see when the fire is hot that you'll never see at any other time. It's always been a very emotional thing for me, watching that power. And I'm glad you found a way to make it your life's work.


GREENE: Ian Bennett and his mom, Connie Mehmel. Connie retired from the Forest Service last week after 42 years. Ian is a lieutenant for the Seattle Fire Department. Their interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress.

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