Who do I want to be? A question we have all asked ourselves at one point in our lives. At a very young age, I focused on playing baseball and being a firefighter like my dad. I loved baseball with a passion and grew up watching the New York Yankees with my dad as a little kid. I grew up wanting the best of both worlds, being able to play baseball for the Yankees and be a firefighter for the FDNY at the same time. I soon realized as I got older that I couldn’t have the best of both worlds. I had to come to a point in my life where I had to choose what I wanted to do with my life. At 18 years old and about to graduate high school, it’s not easy figuring out what you want to do. I was fortunate enough to have amazing parents who raised me right and taught me how to be a man of God.
I spent my whole life going to church every Sunday and even going to youth group every Wednesday night. I know in the fire service religion is a touchy subject and can cause controversy among a lot of the guys and gals at the station. Everyone has their opinion in life, and that’s what makes the power of decision-making so great, we get to choose what we want to believe in and do with our lives. Many people believe there is a God, and many people don’t. I believe there is a God, and I believe he sent his son Jesus Christ on this earth to die on the cross for our sins so that we may be forgiven. I also believe God has a plan for each of our lives and opens doors of opportunity for us each and every day. It’s up to me to have faith and trust in Him to guide me through my journey in life.
When I graduated high school, I had the choice of going to college and playing baseball, or start my career in the fire service and follow in the footsteps of my father. It wasn’t an easy choice for me; I spent many days praying and asking God what He would want me to do. That summer, I spent a lot of my time doing ride time with my father as an Explorer. One of the last fires I ran with my dad that summer was a fully involved office building that was next an abandoned warehouse. Even though it was a “surround and drown” type scenario, I knew from that moment that this is what I had a love for in my life. It’s like God set a fire in my heart, a burning passion to serve and help others in my community. From that moment on, I made it a commitment to strive and be the best firefighter/paramedic God would want me to be.
Fast forward four years later and I’m now a Firefighter/Paramedic with a great fire department, went to college to get my Associates Degree and now I’m working on earning my Bachelor’s Degree. God has provided for me in my life, and I will always be grateful for the many opportunities He has given me. At 22 years old, I am still very young and have a lot to learn and experience. There came a low point in my life, where I was angry and frustrated with how my life was turning out and I stopped putting my faith and trust in God. I started questioning myself and even wondered if this career was right for me, or if this was even the path God wanted me to go down. I lost all hope and at one point gave up. Then all of sudden God always finds a way to to give you reassurance and to tell you that He is with you and has never left you. Through friends, family, church and my amazing girlfriend, I was able to see and realize how great God is and how He had made me stronger. He restored my hope and confidence and gave me life again. I felt like a new man, and I felt a new fire restored in my heart.
Being 22 and still young, I don’t have a lot of advice or experience to give. If there’s one piece of advice I have, it’s don’t give up finding what your calling is in life. I don’t know exactly what God has planned for the rest of my future, but I do know He wants me to be the best firefighter/paramedic that I can be. He would want me to show His love to others in their time of need. For those that are still unsure what the future holds for their lives, don’t give up on searching for an answer. Even if you believe or don’t believe in God, there is a plan for your life. Someone is looking after you all the time. He loves you and cares about you, even when it seems like the rest of world is crumbling around you. He will show you the plans for your life, and He will lead you down the path that will bring joy and great success for your life.
While at the Baltimore Firefighter Expo, I met a man named Evers Trice, who owns Trice Enterprises, LLC. His booth contained a few of his self-invented items including the Fire Falcon and the Shlammer. Admittedly, I did not care for the Fire Falcon as it seemed too gimmicky to me. However, the Shlammer interested me and after some conversation, I was given one to try out for a couple months.
The Shlammer is a 6-pound flat headed axe replacement. Some of the features of this tool include a flat “adze” area to pry or chisel, a hammer head, and a hydrant wrench. It also has cut-outs for the forks of the halligan bar which makes a much tighter fit than your standard axe and makes it easier to carry one handed. I know some of you are traditionalists which I completely understand, however, the Shlammer has some really cool features that the flat headed axe just does not. Does your axe need a hydrant wrench? No, probably not, but it also fits gas shut off valves and may help you in a pinch if you don’t carry pliers in your pocket.
During forcible entry drills, the Shlammer was able to be used by itself to force an inward swinging door. I also used it to pry up corners of a car hood and deck lid, which it did fairly well. When married with the ProBar, it fit very tightly without flopping around. With just a light tap on the ground, the two unmarried and were ready for work. Overall, I was impressed with the ingenuity behind the tool and how well it did its job.
The major downside that I saw was the lack of an 8-pound option and the width of the adze area was too thin. This was echoed by all who drilled with it because the skinny adze didn’t allow you to gap the door far enough during FE. I spoke with Mr. Trice with the feedback and he happily informed me that he is beginning to design an 8-pounder with the adze width the same as a standard ProBar.
Like most things in the fire service, this isn’t for everyone. But it makes a great option for officers who are on under-staffed rigs or make it easier to force doors by themselves – which hopefully if you’re on a ladder truck you already know how to do. All-in-all, Mr. Trice has created something useful in the current trend of junk tools.
Check out www.firefalcon.us for more information and to see his other products.
I recently did a bunker gear demonstration for a small group of kindergartners. As I was talking about all of our gear and placing it in the perfect position to execute the most epic bunker drill of my career, a little boy asked me, “Why are your boots so shiny?” With that simple question, a flood of answers came to me. None of which would be understood by a kindergartner, but would rather be understood by up and coming firefighters.
Why are my boots so shiny? It goes much farther than the time it takes to add a little bit of black shoe polish and water to a cotton ball. It goes farther than the circular motion you make when covering the toe of the boot with polish and creating a shine. There are many reasons why my boots are so shiny; honor, compassion, and integrity. These are the reasons why my boots are so shiny.
My boots are shiny because I am honored. Honored to be in a profession where I can help people in every way, day-in and day-out. Whether we are helping extinguish a fire, cutting someone’s loved one out of a car, or just helping up an elderly person after they have taken a nasty little spill. When I was in the military, a Staff Sergeant opened my eyes to showing honor. We were talking one day, and he asked me if I had seen the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? I replied, “Yes, of course.” Who can forget the scene of hundreds of young, brave Americans getting ready to put their lives on the line on a distant shore only to be met with explosives and gunfire? After I gave my answer, he told me, “That’s why we press our uniform and shine our boots.” I have taken this advice with me into the fire service because there are countless firefighters that have put their lives on the line and have lost their lives doing this great job. Having shined boots is just a reflection of the honor that I give to all those who have paid the ultimate price wearing the same boots as I do.
Every young Firefighter wants the big call. The call that is going to separate the lions from the lambs. The call that is going to require them to utilize all their training, but the reality is, all fire departments are not Ladder 49. We are all made up of fire departments that are may run one call a month, or run 100’s of calls per week. Some of the most pivotal calls we may have is the time we have care for a person who just needs a hand on their shoulder and a voice saying that everything will be alright. It is on these calls were our compassion goes a long way. I would like to believe that as our patient sees us walk in with all of our medical equipment and shined up boots, they think “If these professionals care that much for the shine on their boots, imagine the care they are going to provide me.” Hopefully, this silent response will be enough to put their minds at ease.
During the beginning of my career, I would get teased about shining my boots. They, of course, did not know of the “Saving Private Ryan” story. I would hear things like, “give it six months and you won’t be shining your boots anymore.” Or, I would hear, “they’re just going to get dirty anyway, so why shine them.” Yes, they did get dirty, especially after a vegetation fire, or after walking through a field of mud for whatever reason. After all that, guess what I was doing later on that shift. That’s right…polishing my boots. I did this because I knew that I had set a standard for myself, and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to take that away from me. Even if no one noticed my boots, I knew that my small action reflected doing the right thing even when no one was looking, and that is the definition of integrity.
I know that shining your boots is a small gesture, most of the time it gets overlooked. The beauty of this is not in the shine of the boots, but in the ability to do your best on a seemingly inconsequential task. If you do your best on this small task, imagine the HONOR, the COMPASSION and the INTEGRITY you will display on a task that requires you to make life or death decisions.
– Ricardo Campos
Federal Fire San Joaquin, Ca
***I will first address a perceived issue that has people whining – Station Pride DOES NOT endorse the IAFF or Volunteers exclusively. Station Pride is a conglomerate of BOTH volunteers and career personnel who share their opinions via articles that are written by the individual. Most of our career firefighter staff came from a volunteer department when they were younger. I am a volunteer with NO paid firefighter time. For some reason, volunteers are often so quick to defend our volunteerism and fail to see the bigger picture. What we all are here at SP, however, are PROFESSIONALS – regardless of where our paychecks come from. Can you say the same about yourself?***
The Media Damage to the Fire Service is an interesting article and a great addition from a “Mutual Aid” contributor. Mr. Duckworth has experience in the fire service and is the Local president of a very important organization – the IAFF. Out of respect for Mr. Duckworth, I will not nit-pick his article or attempt to degrade his opinion. My goal is to educate him as well as other paid firefighters with little experience with the volunteer system. Overall, I agree with you regarding the media “romanticizing” the fire service. I can’t stand how “Sons of Anarchy” changed the motorcycle world that I live in. However, I’m just happy they’re making shows about us. Police shows are a dime-a-dozen, yet very few shows focus on fire and EMS.
Everyone knows the history of the fire service. The more recent history, however, is the growth of the Combination System – volunteers and career personnel work together to provide emergency services to our communities. I happen to be a volunteer in the largest combination system in the country – Prince George’s County, Maryland. I am also a volunteer in another large combination department in Loudoun County, Virginia where we work mandatory shifts, earn a retirement, and are expected to be professional. What being a volunteer in both of these areas has taught me is that we are ALL held to the same rigorous training standards and certification requirements. This means that a lot of us don’t treat it as an “extracurricular activity” and we take it as seriously as you do. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but that’s with everything in life. It has also taught me that regardless of the sticker on the back window of your car, we all make mistakes. I have read numerous headlines about firefighters from D.C., Loudoun, Fairfax, et. al. who made some awful mistakes and were arrested for it.
My point, Mr. Duckworth, is that your paragraph describing how the media never differentiates between volunteer and career is insulting, uncalled for, and erroneous. The argument is tired and lame. I can promise you that when our citizens dial 9-1-1, they don’t care if my shirt says “volunteer” or “IAFF”; they need help, and THAT is why we are all here. Just because you may know some volunteers that are lacking doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands more who are very proficient, so please don’t generalize. Stay safe up there.
Take a moment to look back at the shows that were about firefighters and EMTs, such as Emergency, 3rd Watch, Rescue Me, and now Chicago Fire. All of these shows were centered on the world of the fire service and, with that being said, have done great damage to the service over the years. Emergency, arguably the least detrimental, has trained the public that when we are not on calls, firefighters are often just clowning around the firehouse. Third Watch and Rescue Me perpetuated the idea that all firefighters are alcoholics, gamblers, drug addicts, and sex starved men with very troubled personal lives. These heroic characters will take on two months worth of exciting emergencies and pack them into a single hour. Chicago Fire is yet another continuation of the same premise. The first season opened with the main character (firefighter) addicted to drugs. He talks a paramedic into stealing drugs off the ambulance to give him his fix. Backdraft has a firefighter starting fires to discourage the closing of firehouses. Drama Drama Drama!
It all seems so Hollywood far-fetched, yet the problem is that the public has a long memory for the negative. They are never exposed to the real life world of fire, which is far less glamorous. Hollywood decides to run with highly unbelievable drama, and their perception becomes a reality for the general public. This would be less concerning, if not for the fact that these stereotypes are fouls and actually lead to cities and towns making bad decisions. A perfect example of this is in an article I recently read in the Washington Post. It discussed how fire incidents are down across the country and how firefighters don’t have much to do anymore. We sit around and take naps, maybe watch TV, and wait for the next fire. To professional firefighters, the mere thought of this is laughable. Fire based EMS has exploded in call volume and has taken a solid hold across the nation. There seems to be a disconnect between the general public realizing that the ambulance they see rolling down the road is actually the fire departments’ as well. The media likes fires because they are more exciting. Yes, helping Grandma when she’s having severe abdominal pain is not as shiny as a 5-alarm building fire, but it’s our job, and we do it very well. We can bring the emergency room to you, and the amount of people saved by this service is exponentially higher than a rescue from a burning building. The media doesn’t find a heart attack or stroke to be a rating catcher unless we do it in a hospital setting with a Dr. McDreamy and some sex-starved nurses. Sadly, it’s not only the fire service that’s being misrepresented here.
Long ago, most fire departments cross-trained their firefighters also to handle EMS emergencies. Two for the price of one! When these TV shows do bother to include EMS, it’s in the form of a grizzly car wreck, rescuing children from twisted, burning cars. Rescue is a part of our job, technical rescues like vehicle extrication, water, ice, high angle, and confined space are all part of the rescue phase. Firefighter, EMT, and Rescue Technician! Now we have 3 jobs for the price of one! All of these disciplines require recertification and constant training. Often, these disciplines will change, and newer tactics or equipment will be entered into the equation, which also requires new training. Nevermind the equipment checks, vehicle maintenance, and even housework that must be completed daily. Yes, firemen scrub toilets! Not very TV friendly, but its reality.
Firefighters are often portrayed as cavalier lovers that have badge bunnies chasing us around and dying to sleep with us. Hot, stoic men, unshaven and burly, waiting to save the day. The fact is, that too is Hollywood silliness. We are just people. We want to have families and go to our kid’s soccer games just like you. Sadly, the fire service has one of the highest divorce rates of any profession. Crazy hours and loss of family time doesn’t make for marital bliss. The fire service is a calling, not a choice. It grinds people and relationships up, and only the strongest survive. It takes a very special person to be married to someone in the fire service and not enough is ever said about these partners. The media pays very little attention to these fantastic pillars of home strength because it’s not scandalous.
Television wouldn’t want to show us doing our day to day work because it’s just work. Helping people is our job, but it’s not always exciting. None of the shows talks about the fact that a professional firefighter has a 50% higher rate of cancer than the general public.
How’s that for drama! Flip a coin and if it’s heads, you have cancer. Are you now dying to sign up for that job? A job that gives you a much higher chance of stroke or heart attack. A job where there is a good chance your marriage will fail and that your kids won’t get the attention they often need. No, the realities of the fire service are not nearly as fun as the Hollywood portrayals.
Media also never differentiates between volunteer firefighters and professionals. Volunteerism has its’ benefits in small towns with low call volume. I’m not saying that volunteers do not do a good job or that they are bad in some way, however, it’s difficult not to see the differences. The amount of training a professional must accomplish just to stay current is staggering. Media outlets do not do a good job of delineating between a paid and volunteer firefighter when they run news stories. John Doe was caught stealing drugs out of the back of the ambulance, and the headline read that he was a firefighter. In reality, John Doe was a full-time employee for the factory down the street and he occasionally volunteered for his hometown. Now, the general public has an immediate distaste with this poor portrayal of the truth. John Doe disgraced the fire service. Now take Jane Doe, who has an affinity for starting fires that allow her to go on fire calls. The news headline reads “Firefighter starts Fires.” The reality, Jane works at the mobile station full-time and volunteers for her local fire department. Perhaps she felt it was not busy enough, and she wanted to make it more exciting. Public perception sticks with the myth that firefighters start fires. That is a sad perception that is still around today. When did your extracurricular activities become your identity? Headline “Gymnast steals Candy Bar”, “Harley Enthusiast has a drug issue”, “Local Birdwatcher embezzles money!” These are perfect examples of how the media takes a hobby and makes them your identity.
Overall, the fire service and the media need to work better at perpetuating the truth instead of fueling the myths. Every profession has a rare example of a bad egg, but this should not tarnish such a valuable and honorable profession. Let’s all start to do our part with educating the public on these differences. We need to learn to be our biggest advocates because the media is not necessarily our friends.
President – Local 1045
Professional Firefighters of Concord, NH