So recently, I've started listening to The Firefighter Netcast, which is a web based talk show (sort of like a radio show) specifically related to the Fire Service. It's a great program with awesome guests and interviews. The episode I listened to tonight got me thinking though, and I decided to write about it. While cleaning the kitchen (yes honey, I cleaned the kitchen AND did the dishes while you were at work), I was listening to the conversation between the show hosts (Rhett Fleitz and John Mitchell) with Tiger Schmittendorf and Tom Merrill (Fire Chief, Snyder, NY FD) about growing up in and around the Fire Service. The moment in the conversation where I stopped what I was doing and said out loud, "I've done that!" was when one of the guests talked about pulling the garden hose around the yard putting out imaginary fires, he went on to make a comment about how mom had never had such well watered plants. If you read a little further, you'll get the rest of the story on that...
I've been in the Fire Service for a little while. I've run some good calls, run some bad calls. I've been through some training, taken some classes and learned some invaluable lessons. A lot of what I know though, has been passed on from my dad, who has been in the Fire Service for 20+ years. I don' know exactly when he started, but he rode tail board, so he's been on the job longer than anyone in my Department. He and I talk all the time about Fire related stuff, just like all us guys do, and whenever we find something to share we pass it along (for instance; I just got him listening to the Firefighter Netcast). My dad just recently changed jobs, and is now a Chief at the Fire Academy. Knowing him, I can honestly say that I know he will teach safety, core values, good judgement and solid tactics to everyone who passes through his classes. I'm proud to say he's my dad and anyone who knows me, knows I talk about him a lot. That being said, I think you'll understand why I say that I feel like this is "in my blood" (as so many of us frequently say). There was a time when I thought I wanted to go into Law Enforcement, I took some college classes, did some ride alongs, even went to a couple tests. But the reality was, my heart just wasn't in it. I knew, deep down inside, that I didn't really want to be a Cop. The reality was, at that time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. Or at least, I wasn't ready to accept it.
As a little kid, I can remember growing up around the Fire Service. I remember bbq's at Fire families houses, hanging out at the station for hours and days on end, waterball, trap shoots (hose + frisbee = good times), late night calls, and many many many hours putting out the worlds most stubborn tree fire in our front yard. I remember when my dad deployed on a wildland fire, I spent the next week in the backyard in BDU's and a hard hat with a pulaski and a shovel digging line. I can remember a time when I was really little where we were at a two story shopping center and I was afraid of the escalator, of course this was one of those parent and kid holding hands, parent gets on and kid suddenly jumps back while parent rides to the bottom situations. So while I was standing at the top of this escalator crying, probably 5-6 years old, downright terrified of getting on this escalator, an on duty Fireman who happened to be walking by and came up to see if I was ok. After a quick exchange between him and my dad, he took my hand, reassured me and helped me get on the escalator to be reunited with my dad at the bottom. I can't remember being scared of escalators after that either.
My mom tells a story from when I was REALLY young, like 3-4, where I would always beg, cry and scream if they didn't stop at the fire station to look at the fire trucks every time we went by. She tells me that sometimes, they would take an alternate route home, avoiding the station entirely, just because I would throw such a tantrum if I didn't get to go inside. I don't remember these incidents personally, but I don't doubt that they happened.
Fast forward to today, I'm an Engineer now (for you non-fire types, that means I drive the Fire Engine), and I am still just like when I was a little kid. You can ask my girlfriend, just tonight we were in the car and I got all excited because a Fire Engine went through the intersection going on a run. I'm like most Firefighters I guess, I get excited whenever I see a big red truck in hopes that it's a Fire Engine. If I see that silver ladder (with or without bucket) on top, well, I'll be talking about that sighting for the rest of the day. And if I'm so lucky as to see Rescue 1, I'll be making phone calls to tell people about it. That's just how I am. I really don't think it will ever get old and I really don't think I will ever grow out of it. When I hear a Federal Q and an air horn, I will get up and run outside to look for it. Just ask my girlfriend, I've instantly become a 5 year old in front of her many times. To me, as with many Firefighters, this isn't just a job or a hobby, it's a way of life. It defines who I am. This profession, it is a way of living your life. It's a commitment to other people, not just people that need help, but to your family, your friends and your coworkers. I am closer to the guys I run calls with than I am to almost all of my family. And they feel more like family than many people with my same last name.
Whenever someone who "doesn't drink from the same cup as we do" (As Tiger so perfectly put it) asks me "What's it all about" I try and explain it like this; we depend on each other. Not in the sense of "I'm moving next week, can you help me?" We depend on each other in the sense of "I'm on RIT, and you know that if anything goes wrong inside, I will be coming in to get you out or I will goddamn well die trying." As a side note, when I was moving recently, one of the guys offered me his truck to move some furniture. As I later found out, he's never let anyone else drive his truck, let alone take it for the day. And that's just how we are. If I need help with something, I don't even need to ask for help, just mention it and we volunteer. And it's because of that bond that I really only hang out with other Firefighters. Pretty much all my friends are Firefighters, and pretty much all we talk about is Fire stuff. I'm sure it gets really, really boring and aggravating for my girlfriend to sit and listen to me go on and on about this stuff, and I know my mom thinks it's boring too, but I can't help it. It's just how I am.
I would like to take just a moment to say that my parents have always been very supportive of me in whatever I wanted to do, and I love them both very much. Without the examples they both set, I wouldn't be who I am today. I also want to say that my girlfriend is the only person I've ever known aside from my parents that has truly been supportive of me. I know that it isn't always easy for her, and I can't imagine how much she must worry sometimes, but she's always there with a smile and words of encouragement for me. I love her for so many reasons, but that's one of the biggest ones. I don't know how I did this job before I met her, but I do remember it was a lot harder than it is now. It pays to surround yourself with people that support you...
Firefighting is in my blood, I can feel it. It's who I am, and it's who I want to be. Even today, at just shy of 26 years old, I still Run to the Curb every time I hear sirens.