As a young child in a small town, I grew up as the son of a paramedic, the grandson of a firefighter, and the great-grandson of a large town career fireman. I was raised watching my family, including my mother as an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse), help people daily. I remember wearing my grandfather’s hip boots, his long coat and an old yellow “salad bowl” helmet. I would run around, kicking in imaginary doors and dragging in the “green line” and fighting the biggest imaginary tree fire you could find in my granddad’s front yard. This happened almost 2-3 times a week if not more.
I used to listen to the scanner in my parent’s living room all hours of the day and most nights. I would listen for my dad’s voice as he arrives on scene and then again giving his radio report of the patient’s condition to the Emergency Room. Sometimes even getting to go on an emergency with him back then was a really big deal. If I was riding with my dad around town, and he’d get dispatched to a call, he would stop so I could get out and get in my mother’s car. We never went anywhere in the same vehicle, so he could speed off to meet the ambulance or go to the EMS station. Back then, that was life, and I never knew any different.
Now, I am a career fireman. My dad is in his 60’s and still serves as a paramedic as he has since 1979. My grandfather passed away several years ago. I now see that this business or career choice is not just a career or even a calling, it is in my blood.
In May of 2004, I graduated high school and exactly a week later, I went to work at a hospital in Amarillo, Texas as a security guard. Not having any idea what I wanted to do with my life, I had looked into the police academy and just wasn’t hooked. I worked at that hospital for about 10-11 months when an unimaginable accident happened to a firefighter of the Amarillo Fire Dept. While responding to a run, he was donning his turnout gear in the back of the engine. While rounding a corner, he fell against the door. It opened, and he fell to the street.
He was brought into the ER of the hospital where I was working and was eventually moved to the ICU for quite awhile. I don’t even remember how many days or weeks he spent there. What I do remember is, part of my job at the hospital was to make “rounds” of all the units and floors of the hospital during the 8 hours I worked. During the entire ordeal, I witnessed the strength and bond of the brotherhood of firefighters. I saw these huge, grown, intimidating men weep and console each other. I saw family members being taken care of by fellow firemen. That flicked the light switch, which set my mind free. That summer, I applied and was accepted into the Amarillo College Fire Academy.
A few weeks before the academy started, I talked with an old paramedic friend of my dad’s and went on to join the Randall County Fire/Rescue Dept as a volunteer. Back then, as a probationary firefighter with Randall County, I was issued a baby blue “salad bowl” helmet and told that when I become a rookie, I would receive a yellow salad bowl helmet. I was so excited. I was going to get a lid just like my granddads. Then I learned that I would be voted on by the members of the department and, if voted in, I would receive a black traditional style helmet. My heart skipped. My pride was oozing out of me. From my overly “whacker-ish” fire stickers on the back glass of my truck to the fire service T-shirts that were worn and washed so many times.
By January 2006, I was given that black helmet. I was in heaven. At this point, I was living in the Randall County Fire Dept. dorms. This was part of a program that allowed members going through the academy a place to live, as long as they performed chores and ran calls.
I wore that black helmet to almost every call I ran like I was going to lose it or something. I remember my very first structure fire that I wore that helmet. I packed up, knelt on the porch of a trailer house, prepared myself to make my first interior attack… when one of my biggest mentors in the fire service came walking up the porch. It was as if the house wasn’t on fire, and with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on that guy, as he handed me my helmet. He made some crack about me forgetting my ass if it wasn’t attached.
After graduating the academy, I began the testing process to get hired on in Texas. I discovered quickly that the amount of kids looking for firefighter jobs greatly outweighed the amount of actual jobs available. In July of 2008, I finally received an offer. I was officially a paid firefighter. I was given my first career lid, a yellow “salad bowl” helmet, just like my granddad’s. I remember not being able to sleep my first few shifts because I was begging the fire gods for the fire of a lifetime. I came to work knowing that I might get to grab the nozzle that day. But for the most part, I was met with several EMS calls during each shift. While I am a fireman, I did get hired on at a department that runs the ambulance as well. I am one of the few that enjoys the EMS-side of the job. It’s in my blood.
I honestly cannot remember my first fire while on shift. I cannot remember the first time I got my ol’ yellow lid dirty. That helmet has since been replaced by a couple of black traditional style ones. As of today, I am a newly hired Engineer at a very quickly growing county dept. I have roughly 15 years in fire/ems and after 12 years I started my career over almost at a new dept. Excited is an understatement. I’ll update this as my career tales off again so check back in!!
Feel free to also check out another article similar to this one, titled “It’s In My Blood”:
Do you ever stop and think how your actions will affect someone in 20 years? Has it ever crossed your mind that just one thing you did today could be the defining moment in someone’s life? Would you believe that a simple firehouse tour and a hot wheels fire truck could put a spark in a kids heart that will last their entire life? I will tell you first hand, it happened to me. At a young age, I took an interest in being a fireman as most kids do. I had the usual toys and fireman costume that you would find in most homes. But unlike most kids, I never grew out of my fireman phase. My parents, seeing that this wasn’t just a typical childhood dream, stoked the fire that was building in me.
While my father was in the Marine Corps, he became friends with a Marine who happened to be a local volunteer fireman. They got together and worked it out so we would come take a tour of the fire house. Little did he know that his actions that day would set the course for my future. From that day forward, my desire and passion for this job grew and grew. Every time a fire truck would pass us in the car, I was glued to the window. I stared in awe as they raced by, lights and siren wailing. I had a fireman themed birthday, complete with an engine company from the local fire department. My parents went as far as buying a Dalmatian, and of course we had to name him Pongo. There was no doubt that this kid was going to be a fireman.
Unfortunately, as quick as my mentor came into my life, he would soon be leaving. Both my father and he were retiring from the Marine Corps, and our paths would not cross again for many years. But before he left, he invited my parents to a farewell party. I don’t remember much of the party due to my fascination with his fire memorabilia he had in his office. The only time I was drawn away was when his pager went off for a call. Then I was glued to the front door as I watched him drive away. Once he returned, I was so excited to hear what happened that I bombarded him with questions before the front door even closed. But as fate would have it, all good things must come to an end. Before we left, he went into his office and took a small silver fire truck off the shelf. He handed it to me and with a smile he said, “Here Buddy, I want you to have this.”
I still have that toy fire truck to this day.
Fast forward about 20 years and the impact from that day is still going strong. I got my first taste for the job when I joined my local Explorer post. I learned that it took a lot of hard work, long hours and sometimes sleepless nights to be a fireman. But I loved every minute of it. During my time as an Explorer, I was so influenced by another fireman that the flames were raging in my heart. He is a 20 plus year veteran and currently a Captain. He would be the one to teach me the love for the job and all of it’s traditions. He taught me how the old-timers did things and never missed an opportunity for a history lesson. But the one thing that stands out the most is the day he told me I would make a good fireman. Some may see this as just a small compliment and think nothing of it, but for me, it meant the world.
Eventually my time as an Explorer came to an end, and I joined my local volunteer fire department. I’ve been volunteering since 2012 and have worked hard to learn my job and make a good reputation for myself. Some point along the way I made the transition from little brother to big brother. I am the guy many of the new rookies come to for advice. I can see that they have listened to my rants on taking pride in your work. I can see it in how they store their gear or how they load hose. They are becoming good firemen.
Our actions on a day to day basis can have lasting effects for a lifetime. Are you that big brother your rookie looks up to? Will you be the fireman that the little kid remembers 20 years from now who sparked their desire to be a firefighter?
Special thanks to my parents who always supported my dream to become a firefighter. To Lt. Lenny Stoleburg for being the one who started me on my journey and Capt. Jeff Kerley for teaching me what it means to love the job. Without you, none of this would be possible.