This week, I stepped out of my size six shoes and stepped into heavy firefighter boots -- literally. During my time with the Brazil City Fire Department and Fire Chief Jake Bennett, the guys had me try on the fire gear they use when on a call. I had on everything -- from boots to a helmet to an air pack on my back. It was really heavy, but not as heavy as the hatchet I had to carry. I honestly can't imagine having to run, crawl or climb stairs with all that equipment on. These guys have to be in good shape, not to mention dedicated to the job to do all the things they do.
My least favorite part of the gear was wearing an air mask. I think it made me nervous that I was going to suffocate, even though it's job is to keep you from doing so. It made me uncomfortable, but it's one of the things that keeps these firefighters alive while entering a smoke and fire-filled house.
The Brazil Fire Department is made up of 14 crewmembers, seven members on each rotating shift. I learned that these guys work 24-hour shifts beginning and ending at 7 a.m. Sounds exhausting if you ask me, especially if you are awoken in the middle of the night by a very loud alarm, have to race downstairs to put on your gear in less than two minutes and speed to a fire on a big red truck only to spend who knows how long there, putting out a fire by carrying heavy hoses and other equipment. Doesn't that sound exhausting to you?
When they aren't on call, the firefighters don't get to just sit around in big comfy recliners, at least not all the time. Each day, the firefighters have equipment to check, trucks to maintain and a couple hours of drill training, not to mention time spent in the community doing things like teaching about fire safety or giving tours of the station to elementary students. I had no idea how involved in the community Brazil Fire Department is. They do everything from being involved in the YMCA Day Camp to teaching about fire extinguisher use. It was obvious after talking with Bennett and other firefighters that educating children on fire safety and teaching them about the job and station is the most rewarding and enjoyable part of the job, especially when they are so used to seeing tragedy and loss.
I was able to tour the entire station -- from Bennett's office to the living quarters to the weight room. I was impressed with the gym equipment available to the firefighters especially since it was all purchased through a wellness grant. Bennett told me most of the time the guys eat their meals together in the small kitchen upstairs. It reminded me of the movies that show firefighters as a type of brotherhood, which I'm sure is true. Having six different beds in one room reminded me of a camp setting, and I wondered how many of them snore. I think I would have a hard time falling asleep in that room, and Bennett told me some of them find it difficult being away from home at night.
"It's like a big household, but it's not home," he said of the station. And when they are at their real homes with their families, all the firefighters are on call. Because of their rotating shifts, the men don't know exactly what weekends or weekdays they will have off, causing them to miss events or holidays for the sake of our community's safety.
After touring the building, I got a tour of the trucks. I learned about the process of going on a run, what each compartment on the truck holds and who does what in each seat of the truck. Bennett let me start the truck, blow the horn and try out the different seats. I didn't realize how much water one of those trucks could hold -- up to 1,000 gallons! I also had no idea those trucks had so many different compartments, but Bennett explained that you never know what to expect when racing out to a fire, so they need all the equipment they can get.
During my time with Brazil Fire Department, I also met the new guy -- Seth Haviland. He was finishing his 80 hours of training -- wrapping up hoses, driving the fire truck and hooking hoses to fire hydrants. I can't imagine all the work he's put into the job already before even starting or the nerves he must be feeling about going on his first call.
After stepping back into my own shoes, I was able to attend Haviland's swearing in as a firefighter the next day. I watched him give his oath, and I felt proud of him even though I barely know him. I admire Haviland for the dedication he has to take on such a demanding role in the community. And I wish him all the best in his new career.
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