The love of firefighting runs in my blood. My earliest memories of my dad are of him coming home from a fire, covered in grime and smelling of smoke. He took me to the firehouse often and I learned a lot just by hanging around. He was fire chief for several years, which of course made me proud and want to follow in his footsteps. I started out as an unpaid volunteer when I was 16 years old, then became a paid firefighter after completing several training classes and going through the firefighter's academy, which lasted six months. I've been a professional firefighter for almost five years.
In addition to fighting fires, we participate in rescue operations, assist other emergency personnel, provide safety inspections and educate the community about fire safety, among other duties. We are often the first to the scene of car accidents, where we may have to extract victims from vehicles and provide emergency medical care until the paramedics arrive.
When we arrive to the scene of a fire, we assess the conditions and make a plan of action to fight it. The building must be properly ventilated to release heat, smoke, and noxious gases. If there are people trapped inside the structure, our first priority is to extract them. We provide emergency medical treatment to victims, who are often suffering from smoke-inhalation and/or burns. They may be unresponsive and require resuscitation. Sometimes the victims are deceased, which is always a difficult thing to deal with.
Once the building is cleared of occupants, we continue to fight the blaze until it is extinguished. We try to salvage any belongings, if possible. A fire can smolder for days, so we spend a lot of time making sure there is no hidden fire trapped inside walls or other building materials that could reignite the building. After the fire is out, we must account for all of our equipment and assess any damage, clean up and return everything to the transport vehicles before going back to the station.
On a scale of one to ten, I would rate being a firefighter as a nine. I wouldn't want a different career and I feel like I am lucky to have found a job I feel passionate about. I work ten 24-hour shifts a month, which leaves me time to help take care of my kids and run a landscaping business. The only thing I might change is the salary, because I'm not going to get rich as a firefighter. I started out as a recruit making $32,000. Now I make around $37,000 per year with benefits. The feeling of satisfaction I get from saving lives is priceless. With my part-time business and my wife's income, we make enough to get by and save for my kids' education, plus take a vacation every summer.
The hardest part of my job is dealing with fatalities, especially when the victim is a child. Not everyone can handle the stress involved with this job. Handling burned remains and witnessing grisly scenes is part of the job, and I would advise anyone thinking about a career in firefighting or rescue work to be prepared to see some pretty awful things. For me, the times I have helped save lives make all the bad experiences worth it.
One of my favorite parts of the job is talking to kids about what I do and teaching them about fire safety. One thing I tell them is to think of fire as a living thing that eats, breathes and grows. The kids always ask lots of questions and are so eager to learn. It seems like just about every little boy and quite a few little girls want to be firefighters when they grow up. They love putting on the gear and sitting behind the wheel of the fire engine.
Firefighter training is rigorous and demanding, similar to boot camp. You must be in top physical shape and able to handle the rigors of the job with little sleep. It’s easy to start relying on alcohol to help cope with the bad stuff and the job can be a strain on relationships. There’s always a chance that you might not make it back home. I recently lost a good friend who died fighting a fire, leaving behind his wife and kids. The people I work with are like family and losing a brother was devastating, though it's a comfort to know he died doing what he loved.
In five years, I hope to still be doing what I love. I plan on continuing my education to become a fire investigator. This will give a good bump to my salary, plus I’ll be helping to put arsonists in jail. For now, I get up every day with a smile on my face. I love firefighting and being a public servant. So many people are stuck in jobs they hate, wishing for a change. Being a firefighter is all I ever wanted to do, and I am living my dream.
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