A firefighter? You want grow up to be what?

Pinning down why firefighters choose this career path is elusive and unique to each person; here's my best stab at it

I vividly remember the day I was summoned to the high school guidance office for my annual review — even though it was in a previous century. The guidance counselor, who by the way was a really great guy, asked me what my post-educational plans were.

I calmly and matter-of-factly answered that I wanted to be a fireman.

I can still see him sitting back in his chair and putting his glasses earpiece in his mouth and gazing away for a few minutes. I briefly turned around to see if there was something monumental going on in the office; there wasn't.

A wise old captain told me the other day that a fire is what we do in a pure sense. All of the nonsense goes out the window when we put out a fire.
A wise old captain told me the other day that a fire is what we do in a pure sense. All of the nonsense goes out the window when we put out a fire. (Photo/Joe Thomas of Greenbox Photography)

He then shook his head and said, "No, I have never had anybody tell me that before." Of course he followed that with "why?"

Now there is a question for the ages. I would answer the question the same way today as I did that day. "I don't know."

It's the only career that has ever appealed to me.

What Jamie said

A year or two later in the same school the question came up again, this time in a classroom setting. I of course boldly told the teacher the same occupation.

The teacher was equally as confused as the guidance counselor had been. "You want to do what for your job?" he asked totally astounded.

In all fairness most of the other people had answers like go to Harvard or fly the space shuttle. The teacher kept asking why I wanted to do that.

A girl in the class named Jamie, who was gorgeous, spoke up and said, "Well, I think that is an important job, especially if you need help."

I'm sure she would have no memory of that nanosecond of idle chit-chat a lifetime ago. But I never forgot that.

I always intended to thank her for that if I ever made it to a reunion. I'm not the reunion type, although I listen to the '70s on satellite radio.

However, she passed away a number of Christmas' ago. I never delivered the thank you.

More than a cool T

But getting back to the question at hand of why? I really don't know. I guess it's a personal thing. Everybody has their own reasons.

Sure we have a cool ride that everybody stops and looks at. On weekend nights car loads of girls pull alongside of us and wave. Children come to the station and stare in amazement at the fire truck.

People love to have their pictures made next to the truck. The fire truck is the centerpiece of any parade for any occasion. Of course a fire truck is Santa's preferred mode of transportation next to reindeer.

I surmise there has to be more than all of this. A cool T-shirt is nice, but if you are in for the long haul, you really need more.

I attribute my lifetime of emergencies to growing up a block from the fire station, reading Dennis Smith's book "Report from Engine 82" and watching the TV show "Emergency!" — a trifecta, if you will.

A lot of people like to say the fire service is a calling. For some it certainly is. However, there have been a lot of people who saw an ad in the paper, showed up to take an entrance exam and have been jam up firefighters.

'Not for me'

Firefighting is a family tradition in some families. My grandfather's grandfather was a fireman, my grandfather was a chief, or my mother is a firefighter and so on. Some people are born into it.

I have two great kids and neither has ever shown any interest in the profession. I'm the first and perhaps the last to do this in our family. And that's OK; it's not for everybody.

I once worked with an individual who did two shifts — 48 hours. He handed his equipment back in and said, "This is not for me."

A lot of tradesmen are firefighters. They can work their crafts on the side on their days off.

Are they only half-hearted firefighters?

Certainly not, their mechanical knowledge is priceless, especially electricians. They can fix anything in the station and they come in very handy when called on in different emergencies.

Sense of accomplishment

So, back to why? Well, I still don't know. We endure a lot — cancer, heart disease, constant sniping by city governments, pension attacks, work holidays and silly EMS calls.

But every so often the door goes up and there is a column of smoke on the horizon, and that's when we do what we do.

A wise old captain told me the other day that a fire is what we do in a pure sense. All of the nonsense goes out the window when we put out a fire.

I like the feeling right after the fire when we assemble in the front yard and look at the steaming, blackened whatever we put out. We came, we saw, we doused.

Of course, at my age, I am gasping for air and holding on to something. Everybody talks about what they did and didn't do and point out the things that happened in a stressful situation that are funny now.

It's a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I also like the fact that anything can happen at any time, but that's just me.

Let me hear from you. I'm sure you have other reasons, and thanks Jamie. 

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