Stay Stoked!

Here is my first First Due Blog Carnival submission.  Many thanks to friend and partner Fire Critic for organizing and hosting the first of many blog carnivals concerning the fire service.  This month’s topic is :I am a firefighter because….  I’ll start out by answering the question: why did I become a firefighter? 

Because I never grew out of the childhood dream to be one.  I guess it’s still possible that I might grow up and reach my potential, but there’s only so many years available, so I doubt it.  This firefighting thing has stuck in my blood for a long time.

Not a great story here of interest to anyone- but me.  I guess I could tell you that I like to help people, and enjoy the excitement of the job.  It’s all been said by hundreds of thousands before me.  Although its an overused cliché, it still accurately describes why I’m in the fire service.

Unlike many of the fine men and women in the fire service, there is no family member that led the way.  I am not the fourth generation firefighter, and I didn’t grow up around firefighters or in a firehouse.

But, as I grew up in the 70’s, the fire service was evolving as well.  The decade brought us “Dazed and Confused” and the rise and fall of disco also brought the birth of paramedicine, and much was being done in the public eye that was inconceivable just ten years earlier.

Ambulances equipped with only the most basic of medical supplies and oxygen served only as taxis to the hospitals (so that hasn’t changed much in some places, has it Happy?).  Very little life-saving was accomplished in the glorified station wagons with lights and sirens.  In fact, ambuli used to be owned and driven by funeral directors.

Talk about repeat customers!

The fire department in my home town ran the ambulance when I was old enough to notice.  They graduated their first class of paramedics, and a couple of those original guys are still doing their thing on suburban Chicago fire departments.

Then came the TV show Emergency! For an impressionable young lad who already “ran to the curb” (as so aptly described by my good friend Tiger Schmittendorf) whenever the screaming sound of fire apparatus approached, the show tipped it in for me.

I was hooked.  I wanted to be a paramedic/firefighter.

As soon as I could, I enrolled in an EMT-basic course straight out of high school.  I secured a job in a business within running distance of the volunteer fire station owned by a firefighter who, at times, would allow his employees respond to calls from work.  So, with EMT certification in hand, I applied for and quickly secured a spot on the fire department.

While the paramedic side of the fire service was the initial lure for me, that quickly changed.  I had the incredible fortune of joining right before my first drill night- an actual burn down of several buildings.  They strapped on this air pack thing and sent me crawling in behind a young lieutenant into an interior fire.  No hose line, no water can.  Just to experience the heat.

If I remember correctly it was only a burn barrel, but my instructor, Tom,  made sure we felt the effects. With extremely limited visibility and very hot temperatures, I made sure Tom felt a little more heat by pulling his 3/4 boot right off his foot as we scrambled out.  To this day, he hasn’t forgotten the young rookie who did that to him.

I’m sure we’ll see a comment from him on that….

Next up, they wanted to make sure this new guy could climb an extension ladder and a roof ladder, then cut a ventilation hole directly over the fire room.  As the third cut was completed, the flap fell in and the fire came exploding out of the hole sending me reeling backward with a revving K-12 almost causing a fall.

Back then, we learned literally in our “trials by fire”. No NFPA 1403 yet in place.  Although not nearly as safe, it sure was cool, and definitely served its purpose in a way we don’t see anymore. I had discovered the pure thrill of battling the red devil and this boy was hooked!

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it- with pride.  I urge all of you to remember how you got your start and what it was that motivated you down the path you took to get you where you are today.  Remember the feeling of excitement and invigoration you felt when you first found out you were to become a firefighter.  It’s what I call feeling stoked, and it’s how I like to end most of my posts.

Stay stoked!

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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
I was a volunteer for almost twenty years. When our members were police officers, they could carry on duty, concealed. I remember one night when I was the operator (driver) and responding to a house fire, three of the four firefighters on the truck were PD. I was handed three sidearms to take care of!…
2014-01-27 22:54:00
Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
"lockbox on the truck" Does he carry his weapon in a lock box while on duty as a Deputy? I'm thinkin' not. Am I willing to use deadly force, and then turn around and try to save their life after I shoot them? Ain't happening. "individuals with police/weapons training" - the training teaches shoot to…
2014-01-27 19:33:00
Ken Nelson
Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
I believe individuals with police/weapons training should carry fire arms. In our station's situation, our assistant chief is also a sheriff's deputy. I have suggested that he have his firearm with him in a lockbox on the truck in case a need arises. In addition some personnel are current military (Reserve, National Guard) who could…
2014-01-27 18:20:00
Marianna Randazzo
We Should Be Hearing All About Mike Behette Today, Rather Than Knowing So Much About the Navy Yard Shooter.
Thank you for this wonderful tribute to my dear friend Mike. I am in the process of writing a biography/anthology of Michael's life. I would be very grateful for your input. Please contact me on FB, Marianna Randazzo or Given Away, A SIiclian Upbringing. Respectfully yours, Marianna
2013-12-07 02:51:00
Fire Daily
WARNING: This video is graphic and depicts a man being rescued from his burning home.
Yes, Becky, I saw that too. As I was told by an ER doc many moons ago, "a patient without an airway is a dead patient." Not all firefighters are EMT's, and some may not have basic first aid skills- instead relying on a concurrent response from an emergency EMS agency. Not sure in this…
2013-11-27 11:27:00

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