The Firefighter: A Different Kind of Person

A firefighter reaches up a ladder while others perform roof work.

(Photo by Tony Greco)

By Thomas N. Warren

There are very few professions where one takes his skills and expertise and freely applies them while enjoying his free time. Firefighters, on the other hand, seem to not only do this freely but they are often sought out when there is an emergency. Firefighters are very social individuals and proud of their work. They don’t view their profession as “work” like most people do. For firefighters, their profession is their identity; it is who they are. They live their firefighter lives daily for all to see. This is most evident in the T-shirts they wear, the fire department stickers on their cars, and the stories they tell. If you are a firefighter, every one of your family members knows it, and (most likely) your neighbors know it as well.

With this firefighter life we live and love, we also find ourselves being sought out for advice on a variety of safety matters, like smoke detector locations in the home, minor first-aid techniques, and installing child safety seats. In our off-duty time, when we are attending a family function, a little league game, or any other social event and someone falls ill, we will be found and told of the emergency situation. People know that all they have to do is find the firefighter and let him know of the emergency, and he will go to the victim and do what he can.

Last summer, I was attending a wedding reception when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me a woman was choking at a nearby table. I quietly went to the choking woman and quickly administered the Heimlich maneuver, solving the problem. I then returned to my table to enjoy the wedding events. This is not an uncommon scenario; people will find the off-duty firefighter wherever he is when an emergency arises.

Firefighters always set themselves apart from many other occupations in this way during their off-duty time; they simply are ready to help. Firefighters will run into burning buildings, rescue people from auto wrecks, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and provide all types of medical interventions without thinking twice. Firefighters never expect to be compensated or rewarded for their efforts; they just apply their training and improve the situation they find. Can you imagine an accountant doing your taxes without compensation in his spare time?

Sadly, we have witnessed our fair share of “firefighters behaving badly” this past year. This is always a very troubling concept for every firefighter I have known. Unfortunately, this is something we experience every year. We have recently seen a fire chief misusing fire department funds for his own interests in Dighton, Massachusetts; firefighters charged with drugs and weapons offenses in Providence, Rhode Island; a fire captain suspended for improper Facebook posts in Austin, Texas; and even a firefighter selling drugs in front of his firehouse in New York City. These examples of firefighters behaving badly upsets every firefighter I know as we struggle to repair the damage caused by these headlines. These events clearly do not reflect the true nature of the fire service.

 

RELATED: Halton: Behavior is the TruthSullivan on Developing a Fire Department Code of Ethical BehaviorBrunacini on Behavior Management

 

As troubling as firefighters behaving badly is to most firefighters, there are by far many more stories of firefighters performing community service and saving lives during their off-duty time. This is how the vast majority of firefighters conduct themselves every day. Those of us in the fire service will help when help is needed and not think twice about it. Listed below are some of the more high-profile stories of firefighters helping when help is needed during this past year.

  • During a New England Patriots football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on December 31, 2016, two off-duty firefighters heard a man yelling that his father had collapsed. The two firefighters looked at the man and immediately realized that the man had gone into cardiac arrest. The firefighters began CPR, asked others to call 911 and to also find an automated external defibrillator. The 61-year-old man survived thanks to the quick action of these off duty firefighters.
  • On December 12, 2016, an off-duty firefighter in Clemmons, North Carolina, realized that something was wrong when he noticed many of the patrons in the restaurant he was in feeling ill. He recognized the symptoms as being similar to carbon monoxide poisoning. The firefighter notified the restaurant management, quickly evacuated the restaurant, and called 911. Approximately 14 people were hospitalized because of the leaking carbon monoxide.
  • Late in the evening of December 18, 2016, an off-duty Level Volunteer Fire Company (Havre de Grace, Maryland) firefighter/emergency medical technician and her friend rescued two people from a burning car that had struck a tree. The off-duty firefighter and her friend were walking home when they heard the sound of the car crashing into a tree. The two found the car burning with two victims unconscious inside. The off-duty firefighter, with the assistance of her friend, removed the two victims from the car. The car became fully involved in fire just seconds after the second victim was removed.
  • On October 6, 2016, three off-duty Haywood (CA) Fire Department firefighters fishing on their day off rescued a man who had fallen off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is unknown how the man fell from the bridge, but the three firefighters pulled the man from the waters, began CPR, and radioed the Coast Guard to send emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to meet them at a nearby cove. Once at the cove, the three firefighters continued to assist the ambulance crew until the ambulance transported the victim to hospital.
  • On December 29, 2016, in Providence, Rhode Island, an off-duty fire lieutenant spotted a house fire while working part time as an AAA service technician. He stopped his tow truck, crawled into the burning house, and pulled the severely burned man out to the front yard. EMS personnel transported the victim to the hospital.

These five stories of off-duty firefighters performing heroic acts occurred in the last few months of the year (in fact, four occurred just in December!). In the fire service, events like these occur far more frequently than stories of firefighters behaving badly. The common theme in these stories is that firefighters saw someone in need of help and they quickly went to that person’s aid, using their training and skill for a positive result. This is what firefighters do. It takes a different kind of person to act in this way, and that different kind of person is usually an off-duty firefighter.

 

Thomas N. Warren has more than 40 years of experience in the fire service in both career and volunteer departments. He retired as assistant chief of department of the Providence (RI) Fire Department after 33 years of service. Presently he is a faculty member at Bristol Community College in the Fire Science Technology Program teaching a variety of subjects in the fire science discipline. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in fire science from Providence College, an Associate’s Degree in business administration from the Community College of Rhode Island and a Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health from Roger Williams University.

 

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