Why we do what we do

One of the things I have always loved about being a firefighter is that when we aren’t helping other people we help each other get better at helping other people. I was reminded of the enormous responsibility that we share as instructors at a training session in Indiana when a young rookie from the town of Boone Grove asked me why I wanted to be a firefighter. He hadn’t asked the question because I had motivated him in class with cutting-edge information or had shown him a technique that could protect his life or the lives of others. He had asked the question because he had overheard a conversation between me and some other senior firefighters (instructors) about some of the less enlightening things we deal with at all levels of the fire service (station politics, for example). So I told him the truth.

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As a young boy, I never had any ambition to be a firefighter. I loved construction and heavy equipment and pursued that occupation. I spent four years in the Marine Corps as an air traffic controller, and I loved the level of responsibility, structure, and stress that the job demanded to maintain the safety of many people whom I would never meet. After my discharge from the military, I had a little apartment in Oxnard, California, and had returned to construction; at the time, I felt that I was pursuing my destiny. Little did I know that my life and career path were about to change in a blink of an eye.

Early one Saturday morning in the summer of 1984, a fire had been deliberately started in the carport across from my apartment. I was awakened by the noise and the activity that go on at every fire. As I stood on my second-floor balcony and watched, I was impressed with the speed at which the firefighters had gathered their equipment and put the fire out. At that time, even though the scene was chaotic, the actions of that crew resembled any precision unit with a common goal accomplished. Laughing and with the usual banter that was fresh in my mind from the Marine Corps, they collected their equipment, and I went back the sleep.

A few days later, a knock at the door would change everything about my future. Pat, the arson investigator for the fire department, was at least by appearance a very average gentleman. His purpose that day was to do some follow-up work with the residents of my apartment complex to gather any additional information about what anyone may have seen prior to the fire at our carport. After some casual conversation, he and I found that we had similar interests, and a friendship was born. One day, out of the blue, Pat asked me what I intended to do with my life and if I had ever considered the fire service. My response was immediate and without much thought. I said, “Nope, firefighters don’t make enough money for me.” Pat smiled at me and said, “I have been in the fire service for more than 30 years, and I’m richer than I ever dreamed possible.” Later conversations convinced me to try the reserve program at Oxnard, and the rest is history. Within two years, I moved back to Indiana. Pat and I lost touch. It took me almost 10 years to become a career firefighter.

Many times in my professional development, I have been reminded of the impact one person can have on another. As firefighters, we have an immediate impact on everyone we help. As instructors, we endeavor to share our knowledge, experiences, and skills with those individuals who will be serving our communities long after we are gone. This young rookie reminded me that, just as the people we protect hang on our every action to help them during an incident, our students hang on our every word to educate them.

David N. Diehl
East Chicago (IN) Fire Department


What we know


I always enjoy reading the Editor’s Opinion in Fire Engineering. I especially liked “What We Know That Ain’t So” (Editor’s Opinion, July 2009). It was very well written and right on! Thanks to Editor in Chief Bobby Halton for his leadership and willingness to share his wisdom.

Dennis Compton
Mesa, Arizona


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