‘I wish it was me’ – Families mourn fallen firefighters

Published 9:37 am Friday, August 21, 2015

TWISP, Wash. — Like thousands of other college students in the West, Tom Zbyszewski relished summers on the fire lines — it was outdoor work that paid, that was important, that gave him a little swagger when he returned to school in the fall. His parents, who had fought wildfires themselves, weren’t even nervous about it.

One more week, and Zbyszewski, a 20-year-old physics major with an acting bent, would have been back at Whitman College, telling stories.

Instead, flames driven by shifting winds overtook his crew after they crashed a vehicle Wednesday while fighting a wildfire in Washington state. Zbyszewski and two others were killed and four were injured, one critically.

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“It’s what everybody does up here. It’s part of the culture,” his sobbing father, Richard, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday night. “I fought fires for years and years and years — I never even got burned. I wish it was me. I’m an old man.”