My heroes were always firefighters. I would lie in my bed at night as a child and hear the alarm go off in my parent’s bedroom. My dad would jump out of bed and sleepily run down the stairs to rush to the fire hall next door. Many times I heard him crash through the screen door in his haste. I’d run to my window and watch as the other firefighters passed by my house to help someone in need. I felt proud that my dad was one of those willing to risk his life in service of others.
Many years passed before I joined my local fire company miles away from my hometown. As soon as I smelled the rubber from the fire truck tires and the odor of smoke from the hoses, I knew I was making the right decision. However, much had changed since the days of my father’s firefighting time. Everything from equipment to training was more advanced and one could no longer jump on a fire engine and race to an alarm.
One of the first things I learned was how to protect myself. I had to know how to put on the bunker gear and strap on an air pack. I was told that I am not there to become a victim; that would take away from the efforts of other firefighters to handle the situation we were called to control to stop and help me.
Learning how to work hose lines and operate the engines and trucks took time. The fire chief would have to slow me down at times and control my enthusiasm, but never once did it detract from my determination to be the best firefighter I could be.
Car accidents could be particularly gruesome and learning how to control my emotions became paramount so I could perform the tasks necessary to extricate victims. My fellow firefighters would kid me about how calm I would sound over the radio once I became an officer; some would say I sounded like I was falling asleep. This was done on purpose, because my emotions would affect the firefighters I was directing. If I sounded and acted overly excited, I knew that would raise the tension levels of others and this would affect the way they carried out their duties.
Soon after joining I became an Emergency Medical Technician. Practicing CPR on a dummy is much different than performing it on a person, but when that first call happened I didn’t hesitate to drop to my knees and start compressing a chest. Over the years I have been involved in saving 11 lives and several were those I performed CPR on either alone or with a team. One save was my father who was trapped in a burning car and seconds away from perishing.
There are dangers that one accepts when fighting fires. I have been in a couple of close calls that made me rethink my decision for a couple of minutes, but then I would gather with my buddies, male and female, and realize I was allowed to be part of a special group of people who added great value to my life.
My father told me once that what he loved the best was that when the alarm went off it didn’t matter who was in trouble. They could be black or white, male or female, gay or straight; it just didn’t matter. We were there to help anyone in need without prejudice or qualification. He called it a true calling until the day he died.
I have remained proud that I was able to join my heroes in assisting people when they needed help the most. Being a firefighter is all about giving and being grateful I had the ability and training to make a positive difference in my community.