Firefighter For Life
Firefighters - My Way Of Life
A firefighter is a symbol everywhere of trust, honor, dedication and hope. Firefighters are brave and strong. Work hard, train even harder and are there for you when you need them. Beyond the fire, the sirens and lights, beyond the compassion in the worst of times in someone's life and underneath the gear they wear, are people just like you. With real lives, hopes, families, frustrations and triumphs.
I know all of this to be true. I am a firefighter.
I am honored to hold that title.
It is only with passion that you can truly be a firefighter. Desire, want, need are all good attributes. Honor, courage and strength, definitely. But only with passion can you put all the pieces together.
Passion for training. For learning how to keep your crew, your community, yourself safe. Practicing what you learn, over and over and over again. With new crews. New equipment. Even on your own. You have to believe strongly in your training. In your gear. In your crew and your officers.
My passion to be the very best firefighter I can be started almost 20 years ago and has grown every day since.
The passion to respond to every call, whether it is a false alarm or a building with victims entrapped comes with every call. Every time the tones go off, you want to be on that truck. Don your bunker gear. Be there to help.
A firefighter's passion for the job burns as hot as any flame we fight and grows with every emergency we respond to. I know that every single call is another learning experience. About alarm systems, firefighting, my crew, my equipment, the road conditions or pre-planning a building so that if an emergency happens there, I remember something else about that environment.
Pictured in the photo: Me and my crew at a structure fire as first due engine in our district.
If you love firefighting, then you have to love training. It will save your life. It will save someone else's life. It will make you look really good when things are going really bad.
I became a Level I instructor so I could help train our guys on SCBA and basic firefighter instruction. We train at our Fire Station a minimum of four times a month, two is mandatory a month for every member. We train in station. We go to different Fire Academies to hold Live Burns. We practice Search and Rescue in local buildings and our own station. We watch videos sometimes especially in the winter when spraying water will just freeze our roadways. We learn and practice and learn some more.
Read, read, read we tell our guys. Back in the day, there was no Internet to learn from! How did we do it. Now you can learn more about firefighting and fire scene mistakes you shouldn't make just by watching YouTube then we could at the Academy.
Learn firefighters. Practice whether your are a Rookie, A Fire Officer or a Senior Firefighter. Never stop learning.
My Bunker Gear
When I joined the fire department almost 20 years there were no women on the department. One or two had tried but not only is it very physically intense and challenging so were the men who really, really didn't want any women on their fire department. When I earned my first set of fitted gear after graduating the Fire Academy, the Chief and firemen in the department as well as the vendor who had to measure me were pretty horrified that a woman had to be ummm, you know measured everywhere. It didn't bother me at all, hey my first set of real bunker gear bring it on!!
My bunker gear is more familiar to me now than anything else I have ever worn. It is fitted for me when it is purchased. I am very lucky our Chiefs allowed me to add just the right tabs where I like them for rope bags, radio mikes, ID accountability tags, everything is just where it should be. I can close my eyes and know exactly where everything is and after a call I make sure it is all back in the same place. Every call. One glove in each pocket, assorted chocks and window holder clips and handy tool sets and a knife - one in my bunker jacket pocket, one in my gear pants on opposite sides.
My helmet strap is fitted to work perfectly when my SCBA mask is on, chocks in my helmet band, small LED helmet light on the right side. It's red because I have the honor of being our department Captain.
When I joined the great debate was Nomex hoods, hell how will we ever know the fire is too hot if we don't burn our ears off LOL - today no firefighter would ever be caught without his nomex hood.
My boots are awesome leather, no more rubber boots for me like when I first joined 20 years ago. That is a great advancement for firefighters.
Team Shots Firefighter CrewsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Firefighters have to keep on firefighting now matter what the weather is. So many lightning storms, hurricanes, nor'easters - so many. Downed wires, dangerous roads, houses struck by lightning on fire, trees down on homes and roadways. Winds so strong we can barely stand up. Rain so heavy it's hard to see. We have a dam that floods over, roads we know will flood and no matter what the weather reports say, people will still be driving on the dangerous roadways.
Snow storms, blizzards, black ice and hydrants buried by the snow fall. Not an unusual challenge for us. When the weather forecasters get going and most people are buying their bread, milk and eggs to huddle up at home, we are packing our gear bags full of clothes and toothbrushes and heading down to the station for the next couple of days ready for whatever Mother Nature will reap upon our community. So long family. So long cozy bed. See you in a couple of very busy days.
In the Summer we face the opposite problem. Seasons of 100 degree days, blistering sun and high humidity with no break, until the violent thunderstorms hit. Working in our gear in that weather is not so fun, but we hydrate and after years and years of doing it, my body has learned to adapt.
Go Big or Go Home
I remember a senior firefighter telling me once, listen girlie, go big or go home. They get big these fires so if you can't handle the heat, how about going back into the kitchen. Nah, it didn't really get me mad, but he was right in a way. Firefighters have to always think big. Expect the unexpected and be ready to handle the big ones. If you do not have the passion, the willingness to give the big ones everything you have, you do everyone a favor if you don't show up. Every firefighter is counted on to know their job because we have to depend on eachother especially at the big ones.
Pictured here is a residential structure fire, that's me in the red helmet first on the line the crew is behind me flaking the hose, my best pump operator ready to send the water. We entered from around the rear gaining entry into the second floor and did a hell of job helping to extinguish this one. It was hot for sure, the knees were feeling it, zero visibility and the crew was an awesome team. Definitely one of our war stories.
A Firefighter's Pride
Pride and Passion. How can you not be proud of being a firefighter when every challenge you accept is important. Some calls are long, some calls are routine and the clean up, truck check and paper work takes longer than the investigation.
In the photo here I am overseeing the final wet down phase of a brush/grass/woods fire that lasted for hours until the widespread area fire was extinguished, hot spots checked and wet down and all areas surrounding even if not involved were wet down too.
Firefighter Rookie Days
In this photo I am still like a Rookie with three years in compared to those who had 10 or 15 years in and were still fighting fires. I listened to every war story. Every funny, sad, crazy story that they had to tell. It's hard to believe I am the one telling the war stories now. Every time one of my Rookies gets to go on one of "those calls" I tell them - now you have earned yourself a war story of your own. They love that. Over the years it's been fun hearing them tell some of them to the next generation of new guys.
Incident Command Structure
When I started out in my firefighting career, the Chief or Deputy Chief was the boss of the scene pretty much. If you needed to report something while fighting a fire we just called to Chief 46 and gave our report.
Today the firefighting world has changed dramatically. In a good way. There is more structure to the response system and all firefighters learn pretty much the same parameters. Today your Chief or the guy in charge is the Incident Commander. Now we call out to Incident Command to give our report. Or the interior guys if the fire is big enough will call to the Operations Officer to give their report. The Operations Officer will report back to the Incident Commander.
In order to comply with and learn all these new rules I had to go to ICS 100, 200, 300 and yes I have completed ICS 400. NIMS 700 and NIMS 800. Now when you go to the Fire Academy the basic ICS courses are included, no such thing when I went to fire school at all. As you move up in rank, or grow with your experience need you can take the advanced courses important for Fire Officers in the fire service today.
In the photo is Fire Chief Barry Rashkin who respected and integrated the Incident Command System into every call regardless of the size and scope of the emergency.
Loving My Job
It's the hardest, most demanding, challenging and pretty dangerous profession. I was told it was only for men. I was told, well actually I was told to get lost at first. I was told I couldn't hack it and truthfully, I didn't really know if I could.
But something inside me thought, hey I'm sure I could at least hook up a hydant.
And then I went to the Fire Academy for Firefighter I. That first Live Burn. My first thermal balance with the smoke hovering over my head. The first time I got to be the nozzle guy.
I knew then that I loved it. And I still do.
My first Fire Chief was very proactive, believed in new gear, equipment, learning new techniques and believed strongly in training and education. He would periodically put out a sheet following a Fire Company meeting and encourage the members to sign up for more specialized courses they might be interested in. There was confined space, hazardous materials, pump operations and driver training, advanced SCBA courses - great advanced classes like those.
He was standing there watching what we were signing up for. I signed up for Driver and Pump Operations. He just stared at me. Yikes. He shook his head. I said Chief, I'm in the range of eligible to sign up for this, I'm really interested. Everything got very quiet. He shook his head and said, why don't you sign up for something you know, you might be better suited for. You can take an EMS or CPR course if you want. I was an EMT for 10 years on the local rescue squad just before I joined the Fire Dept. I looked at him. Oh he looked at me. I signed up for Pump Class any way. Did I mention that the same Chief was the Instructor for the course.
I will never forget the first time I drove to a fire call. It was a residential false alarm so the LT let me drive it on my first emergency run as driver/operator. The Chief came out of the house, saw me in the driver's seat and well, I thought we were going to have to call EMS. When we got back he called the LT in and boy did it get loud. The LT stood by me though, I did happen to be doing the best in Pump Class, logging tons of hours during drills and training and going out with Fire Officers and other Pump Operators every chance I got.
It didn't take me too long to get "Qualified", approved to drive and operate every apparatus in the station from our old engine to our 75 foot Mack Baker Aerial Tower. I love them all. I'm proud of them all. I always say if I have to be the Pump Operator, I want to be pumping the first due attack truck, that's where the action is.
Special AssignmentsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Fires and Assignments
When the 911 dispatcher tones you out for an emergency, you really never know what you will get. You jump in the Engine or Ladder truck, whichever you are assigned to or appropriate for the call and get prepared. For everything. And anything.
Through the years I have learned to never, ever become complacent. Just because you get dispatched to the same commercial property over and over for a false alarm, doesn't mean that the next time it isn't really going to be a fire. Has it happened to me. Oh Yeah. Once at a senior complex with 100's of private apartments, nursing clinic area and attached buildings. Over and over, false alarms. Until it wasn't. Cigarette butt in the garbage pail and a nervous senior citizen turned into two adjoining apartments fully involved, heavy smoke through the attached hallways, evacuation of hundreds of senior citizens. Never get complacent I tell the guys.
Just about a year ago we were toned out for a CO alarm going off at someone's home. Our Chief and Deputy Chief were responding in their respective vehicles. Our first due engine with me in the Officer seat was on the way, the guys were getting the CO detectors ready and suddenly the Deputy Chief announces he has a fully involved second floor, flames showing side alpha and bravo, what!!!! The resident just thought it was her Carbon Monoxide alarm going off. You never know. Every time you get in the truck, you have to be ready for every assignment.
This photo collage includes some of my adventures, leaving the 2nd floor by ladder because the stairs were compromised and a Mayday was called, wrapping up a tractor trailer fire, preparing with my crew for some roof work assignment, my partner and me getting ready to grab a 2nd attack line off of the first due engine at a structure fire.
In The News
Firefighters are always in the News. On TV, Online, in the newspapers - fire crews racing into buildings saving lives, saving property, mitigating hazardous materials problems, rescues at motor vehicle crashes. How much I respect them all and know what they have put on the line.
I am always pretty amazed when I see myself in the News. Over the years I have collected dozens of articles, front pages photos and even video taped (well now DVR'd) the nightly news because, well I'm in it! Not just me. Me, my crews, my station, my fire officers. Me. Fighting Flames. Winning awards. On scene at bus accidents. Tractor trailer crashes. It's not conceit that I save this. It's amazement really. I didn't grow up thinking someday, I will be a firefighter. I had no idea I was even capable of it. I save it to remind myself of how much I put into something that means so much to me every single day.
I save it for my family who sacrificed so much so that I can do these things. Missed parties, late dinners, overnighters, all time that I chose to give, all time my family gave too.
A very special thank you to my wonderful loving family who have supported me in my firefighter career and throughout my life every day. My daughters were about the age of my granddaughters now in the photo above when I started to love the emergency world.
Thank you left to right, top to bottom: Cindy, Kaitlyn, Elyse and Randy and Ashley.
I love you guys and share this with you.
Family At The StationClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hotel Fire Fully Involved On Arrival
There are some great books about firefighters, both fiction and non-fiction that really describe so well some of our day to day and special project assignments. How we blend firefighting into our lives and how it becomes part of our world.
From the history of firefighting to the new techniques in safety and survival, we are always learning, learning and learning some more.
A series for children about firefighters all over the world to spark some interest in the new generation
True stories from firefighters sharing their experiences both good and bad, happy and dramatic and how it changed their lives
The spirit, history and amazing growth of firefighting through the years
Fireground operations can become dramatic and deadly from one second to the next. Firefighter survival has come a long way.
Firefighters have to work out to stay in shape and keep themselves physically healthy, I do every day.