It is not uncommon for little kids to want to be firefighters at any point in their life. How many get to live that out? Like anything else, kids tend to change their mind. What drives someone to become a firefighter, career or volunteer? This is something I sometimes wonder, because it is one thing I know that a majority of kids do dream of, and sometimes it occurs to me that maybe it is kind of a strange thing to do for free.
But it is something that I could never not do.
I want to share my story as a volunteer firefighter. Like all of those other kids, I wanted to be a firefighter growing up. However, one difference from most kids was that my dad was the local volunteer fire chief when I was growing up. Some of my earliest memories come from the firehouse, hanging out with my brothers as my dad did fire chief duties. My dad and older brother met President George W. Bush with the fire department when he surveyed damage done by Hurricane Ivan back in 2004. I was counting down the day until I could join. And then, finally, it was my turn. In April 2006, I finally, finally, (to my teenage mind, it had seemed like I had been waiting forever) was able to put in an application as a junior firefighter. Then, I was a junior firefighter
My next thought, probably, as I began learning about being a firefighter? It’s freaking hard. Now, that probably seems like an obvious statement but it was hard in ways I don’t think I necessarily expected. From Hollywood’s portrayal, to the news, and even to what I had seen with my two eyes, I never expected it to be hard to just move. Walking was something different in all of that gear. I was short and felt slightly overwhelmed by the folds of turnout gear as I tried to move. It was an odd sensation. But soon, the smell of turnout gear became a comfort, something familiar, something I loved.
The next four years flew in a flurry of calls and training and fundraisers; frustration when I struggled and elation when I succeeded. The summer when I was 16 I decided to take an EMT course, which I passed. At 18, I was able to become an actual structural firefighter and go into buildings. Now, it was so much more real. I was no longer limited by the orange shield on my helmet proclaiming that i was a junior. On my first “real” fire? We were the RIT (Rapid Intervention Team), the group that goes in if a firefighter goes down. There are very precise methods to this, and on that call I wouldn’t have actually gone in for that due to lack of training (many trainings require you to be 18). However, I was excited nonetheless. What happened? I learned I had asthma because I had my first ever asthma attack and ended up going to the hospital. What a way to start (Side note: It was sport induced asthma and I haven’t had an asthma attack since my sophomore year of college. The whole thing was weird.)
I went to college only about 40 minutes away, but I knew I’d miss the fire company. All four years, I kept a photo of a group of us in front of our engine on my desk. I stayed as involved as much as possible while in college and making sure to be involved with college too. I balanced it pretty well. I had firefighting sorority letters, the first pair I ordered. I took my Firefighter I not long before finals my junior year, and then the next year I had a friend drive me to take a test for a vehicle rescue certification. I’m not sure if my friend ever thought this odd.
Becoming a firefighter was the best thing I ever did. I, along with countless others, have shed literal blood, sweat (a lot of sweat. A lot.), and tears in some connection with the fire department. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on a firefighting issue, and it ended up published in a firefighting magazine! That is my top two greatest accomplishment (it’s up there with getting my Masters) As a writer, that was the coolest thing ever. Not only was my article in an magazine that I could actually hold and this entire thing which seemed surreal but was reality, it was a firefighting magazine! How did I get so lucky? How did this happen? I still don’t really know to be honest, I never expected the magazine to actually accept it.
Once, I had a friend tell me that I was always smiling when I talked about firefighting. I really hadn’t considered it before, but I knew how proud I was to be a firefighter, and, I suppose, I was generally happy when someone asked me about firefighting. It was a comment that has stuck with me for a while now. Firefighting has been my passion in life for ten years now. The gear that once seemed impossibly heavy doesn’t have nearly the same weight now. The act of “packing up” (putting on our self-contained breathing apparatus), which once seemed like a jumble of another heavy weight, clasps, and straps is now a second nature, no different to me than putting on a sweatshirt. However, the only thing that has ever been easy about firefighting is how much I love it.
I don’t think you can do this job if you didn’t completely love it. As I said before, it’s blood, sweat, and tears. It is also a lot of time, between responding, training, fundraising (for most volunteer departments), and just general department work. My own department went through a merger with another to create an entirely new department; a difficult but undoubtedly interesting process that I’m glad I got to be part of. I have found some great friends for life through firefighting, and there is no stronger Brotherhood. I am truly proud to be a sister of this Brotherhood. There are so many people I could go to for anything. Technology has made connecting with others in the service easier, which is pretty cool. We learn from each other. This connection always us to share the brotherhood. I think back to the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V, “But we in it shall be remember’d, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” My brothers and sisters; firefighters. What gets me from this is “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” I like to think that we are a happy few, proud of the work we’ve do and aiming to help others.
That isn’t to say there aren’t still struggles. Lately, I have been trying to overcome my own, namely strength. I’ll share with you another quote that I consider through this, “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” (Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back). I have been working on my fitness and now nutrition. There is nothing more I have ever wanted than to be a good firefighter. Recently, I purchased a book “Firefighter Functional Fitness” (which I am hoping to review on here at a later date) to help guide me through fitness specifically to gain strength as a firefighter. I can’t help the fact that I’m a short female, but I do have the power to not let it hinder me and overcome my limitations. That’s my current journey. I’m excited to give fitness updates along the way, and possibly share some healthy recipes I find. Some may go back and say, “Do or don’t? Isn’t that setting yourself up for failure?” To me, it doesn’t set the bar too high; it just sets it where I need to be. Besides, the benefits of health and fitness go beyond firefighting. I am the type of person who thrives on goals, and, along with my Rocky workout playlist, this gets me focused.
I am the lucky one to be a firefighter. It is truly the best thing I have ever done. Even in my studies (specifically my Master’s), through my sorority’s philanthropy work, and as I establish a career, I have always felt that I was meant to help others because I have the ability to help others. Firefighting is no different. I can’t fully explain it. It’s just something I do. As corny and cliché as it may sound, it is part of me, just like anything else. I hope you enjoyed this post and got a glimpse into my firefighting world. Have a fantastic day.
Peace and Love,