For Sagle resident Rich Faletto, the question was never a matter of whether he would write a book, but when. The time finally came three years ago, and the final product will be released to the public on Thursday when Faletto, 69, hosts his first book signing at Vanderford’s bookstore in downtown Sandpoint.
“Four-Eleven! Pulaskis, Planes & Forest Fires” is a memoir of the four summers Faletto worked for the National Forest Service in the early 1960s, fighting fires, maintaining trails and flying as an aerial observer pilot in Washington state.
“I wrote the book in part for the same reason people climb mountains – because it was there. The story had to be told,” said Faletto, who adds that he also wanted to honor the memory of all those wildland firefighters who lost their lives fighting fires in the West. He mentions two specifically who were from Lake Chelan – Ernani St. Luise and A.K. Platt.
Faletto’s interest in aviation began at a young age, and he attributes his fascination with firefighting to the influence of his father, who worked for the Forest Service for 11 years.
“He would love to sit on the back deck and watch the storms develop over Lake Chelan,” said Faletto.
Although there was always a danger of losing his life, Faletto said he never had any fear of fire. “In fact, I had tremendous respect for it,” he said.
Faletto worked on the book off and on for three years. He researched, interviewed and reviewed his pilot log to help him recollect key dates and events.
“I love history and I really enjoy writing,” said Faletto who credits teachers in his early years for kindling his interest in creative writing.
Faletto said the publication of his book unintentionally coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the Great Fire of 1910 which killed 87 people, 78 of whom were firefighters, and burned approximately 3 million acres across Washington, Idaho and Montana.
According to Faletto, that fire changed the way forest fires are fought.
“They (the Forest Service) developed policies of lookout towers and eventually led to early aerial fire suppression,” said Faletto.
He started his book with an outline. Faletto’s background in marketing and sales told him he needed to identify his target audience.
“I had to define how to structure the stories in a way that would be meaningful and interesting to the reader,” said Faletto.
With the help of friend Sandy Compton, who owns Blue Creek Press and helped design the book, Faletto then self-published his memoir.
While he admits his book may not appeal to everyone, he said he hopes that people realize the importance of having respect for both the land and those who risk their lives to protect it.
“As far back as 1900, people like Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the United States Forest Service) and Theodore Roosevelt were farsighted enough to set aside federal lands for the benefit of the public,” said Faletto. “And those lands are still there for the enjoyment of the American people. And that includes not only the national forests but also the national park systems.”
Faletto had not been back to Lake Chelan for several years until he started researching the book three years ago. He said that recent fires have decimated the hillsides and he knows just how challenging it can be for firefighters to work in that area.
“Chelan has a national reputation,” said Faletto. “No one wants to go there and fight a fire. It is too steep, too rocky and if the wind gets going it’s scary.”
Faletto is no stranger to Sandpoint. He has owned a business here and has volunteered for many organizations along with his wife Betty. His love for aviation led him to co-chair a group with Ron Nova that succeeded in bringing air service to Sandpoint several years ago.
Faletto said he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received, from both the community and those with whom he worked in the Forest Service, when they learned he was writing a book.
“What was really unexpected was the enthusiasm of the people I contacted when I was doing the research,” said Faletto, who adds that the feedback he has received by those who received proof copies of the book has been overwhelmingly positive. And if there was anyone who doubted that he could achieve his goal, Faletto was not one of them.
“I never had any doubt that I could do this,” said Faletto.