You would think fire and fighter together means a person that fights fires, right? Well, these days that’s pretty seldom, especially depending on where you serve, and if it is volunteer or not. These days fire awareness, education, and sophistication of protection and building materials lessens house fires. Firefighters get plenty of alarms, crashes, wires down, hazardous materials, and everything but fires. I often get, “Oh wow! You’re a firefighter!? So have you fought a fire?” It’s hard to call yourself a firefighter without actually fighting a fire, especially after being one for nearly four years.
For me, it’s a matter of lack of fires and the fact that every time we do get one it is usually in a mutual aid town and I am always many miles away stuck at work. Also, if there happens to be a call, I and a couple others live the furthest away from the station, making it impossible to make even the second truck, and third unless we are overly fortunate and it’s during the day. I started out there living the furthest and having to walk/run to training, meetings, and calls. I then moved very far from my town and had no way of getting there (not even buses were available). Now I have a car, but still live a bit off and work nonstop, hardly able to make calls.
I also had a rocky start. I was the first junior firefighter in the department’s history. Not only that, I am also a female. Having a very tiny, young, woman in their station wasn’t welcomed. Our station is also very family-oriented with many members being sons/fathers, brothers, cousins, in-laws, and I don’t have that. Despite everything and everyone against me, I would walk and run through storms and snow to every single call and training night possible. I even made every effort to make every miscellaneous event, parades, and fundraisers. We go by a point system, and in just a few months, I had more points accumulated than the majority of guys there. I also started at the fire academy that first month, finished in about 6 months time, and even became a first responder with hazardous materials operations at a state level all while making it through family issues, my senior year, working, and sports.
It took years to get guys to look at me, even longer for them to talk or listen to me, and finally three years later, I actually get to touch and use equipment. If I was able to make a call, I couldn’t do anything, and sometimes not even allowed off the truck, sitting by myself, with younger and newer guys out of it. I have had the same gear that I started with which was only supposed to be until I was no longer a junior or probationary member. The gear isn’t completely suitable for the fire academy and the boots are so large around my microscopic calves and ankles, that I can hardly walk in them and permanently damaged my knee because of them. It took a long time to get a name on my locker [at the end], and I never was made ID tags.
With all the negative aspects of what I’ve gone through, I still have always carried an immense passion for what I do. Ever since I was little I only cared about the firetrucks in parades, and had a strange, overwhelming feeling inside of me like butterflies every time I heard the fire whistle, saw a truck fly by, and watching fires being tackled. When I was very young, before being both hands old, I was extremely interested and felt the need to help the firefighters, but obviously couldn’t. Nothing was going to cause me to lose that feeling, even in my struggles there. On the otherhand, I did have a few amazing guys always on my side. A couple guys would take the time to teach me and defend me against all others that I am able to do what they do too.
Enduring everything going against me there, I pushed through it with my strong passion and it has become worth it. Guys are finally realizing I’m there to stay, I AM capable of doing what they think I cannot, and I have a lot to offer. This late summer/fall we had numerous young guys join all at once. I was stunned the first training night with them when I was paired off with them instead of still being considered a noob with them. ALAS! I am considered an actual firefighter there. I finally have ‘earned’ ID tags, too, instead of being the only one without them. From there things got better. I am assigned tasks instead of standing around not wanted to do anything, I am getting brand new, fitted, turnout gear, and I have more respect and trust on scenes.
Compared to 2008, the new year of 2012 that has just begun is a fabulous one. The year ended with 11 calls just our dept had fire/EMS. I did two fire and 1 EMS with them, and many EMS responses on the ambulance. The new year started better than I could ever dream of. It is only the second week, and I have probably gone on more calls this month than I have in a year, sadly. I have been lucky enough to have calls come in when I am actually home, with a car, and able to respond, and even better yet-when I am right across the street at the ambulance base. This is all just building up to the highest point in the department for me, a huge advancement as a firefighter, and one of the best, most memorable moments in my life…
On Saturday, January 7th, at approx 6:10pm, I was on my way getting geared up in the first responding truck to a confirmed residential fire. 1. I made the first truck 2. A seat was saved for me because I was able to be masked up 3. It was my first actual fire from start-finish. I had no time to embrace the moment and be struck with owe. My mind was taken over and I unconsciously geared up without a thought. I was fully geared and turned the air on just seconds after letting the probies out to hit the hydrant and pulling up to the burning house. I jumped out of the truck and immediately went to my chief who was standing next to the flames on the outside. He screamed for us to get a line and into the house. It was at this point, and the only one, that I stopped for a few seconds, stuck. I couldn’t believe I was about to go in as the first crew. I thought I would NEVER be the first crew in, even ten years from now. The thought of going into a dangerous situation didn’t come to mind, but the fact that I was being allowed in without thought could’ve caused the world to end.
I struggled to hear the command of my superiors, but did what I could. I pushed forth all the strength I could pushing the line up the steps, attempting to axe a wall with clunky gear, clearing a path in a room, and blindly hooking away at a ceiling in a room filled of heat and smoke. The exertion was certainly wearing me down, but I knew I could give it my all until my bottle hit empty. I went low to the ground behind the nozzle man, and that was about it for me. I was hit with an overwhelming, sharp pain, in my abdomen. I couldn’t help but to stay down and not move much more than advancing the hose further into the room. I at least had a few moment to take things in and learn. By the time the pain passed, I was up and at the nozzle ready for more experience. Of course, my bottle finally ran out, so I had to get out before it hit empty. I walked out, put my helmet, gloves, mask, and pack to the ground, chugged a bottle of water, recovered for ten or so minutes, and was getting geared up again for more with three bottles of water diminished. By this point the fire was just about fully knocked down and all that was left to tackle was the remaining, unknown smoke from the walls with crews battling the fire and ventilating from the outside as well.
What an overwhelming feeling. With the three-alarm fire worth of equipment and men there, I was the first to take on the house fire, and was fully involved the entire night. The remainder was spent insuring the fire was out, cleaning out the house, and packing up. At the end of the night, we spent a couple hours doing what we could to clean everything up and prepare for the next call.
To think of where I started and where I am at this very moment is incredible. I had a feeling about that week. I was making numerous calls, being the first few there each time, including the ‘big one’. I wasn’t standing hopeless on the scene without a task, either. The entire night was all too perfect. The fire wasn’t too big for me to be exposed to as a first fire, the crew I was with was the best guys that worked with me well, every single member of our department did exceptionally well including the new guys, and the support and help from the other departments made it go smoothly. It’s amazing to see how much of the house we saved, and what it could’ve turned out to be without everyone there. I also had the one paramedic I would’ve chosen to be there at the fire. It’s sappy, but I’m glad he was there to be in the memory of my first fire, and if something would’ve happened to me, it was comforting knowing that I can trust him above all for myself and my ‘family’. It was the cherry ontop, really.
Now I can finally call myself a firefighter with pride and say, “Yes, I have fought a fire as a firefighter, and I’ll never forget my first one”.
As great as everything has been, things continue to skyrocket forward. I was nominated and elected into the Board of Governors, and I’m on the Membership Committee and QRS Committee. I now actually have a voice and I’m given some decent tasks. The best of everything is all of the new guys in our station. They’re all my age (FINALLY!), and are great fun to be around. Yes, they are a bunch of whackers and probies, but they do great work and it’s nice spending half of my week with them on QRS standby and running calls. It’s cool to actually have a brotherhood forming in our station to help steer away from all of the politics and drama.
In the end, everything I have endured seems to have been worth it. I am awaiting the arrival of my new gear that is due to arrive any day now, and anxious to break it in (hopefully in a fire). Some things in life, like a passion, is certainly worth sticking out and discovering what that hell gone through was worth. The passion and feelings inside don’t lie and can’t be made up. I was born to help people, and I was born a firefighter.