A while back I crooned over a milestone here on the blog. Lisa was her name, and she didn't pick a blog topic....until now.
Since she asked I guess I tell. Her question: How did you know that you wanted to be a firefighter? Besides the helping people thing, what makes a sane person say, I want to go into burning buildings and put out the flames? And, could you describe your first fire fighting experience?
Well, the reasons are both practical, and a bit more personal I guess.
The practical part is that my grandfather gave me some good advice. I was just smart enough to listen.
As for the personal side of it, it's not so much that I wanted to be a fireman, it's just that being a fireman allowed me to be what I am.
I grew up around folks that were a pretty self sufficient lot. I grew up in the country, and still think of myself as a country boy. Being able to do for yourself was a necessity more than an option. I like to fix things, to make things work, or make things better.
I know it sounds corny, but I really like helping people.
As far as running into burning buildings, well, it's actually kinda fun. I guess some people like being scared in haunted house, or riding a roller coaster. Maybe it's rock climbing for them. For me, I like fighting fire. It's not nearly as glamorous or exciting to me as it used to be, but I still like it. I guess I like the challenge.
And then maybe you were wrong to assume I was sane, who knows. (kidding)
As for my first firefighting experience; I went to EMT school, and then joined a volunteer fire department in my part of the county. It was one of those show up, get voted into the department, get gear, and congratulations you're a fireman now. Wham Bam Thankyou Maam.
I went to several grass fires, and even a few "structure fires", but by the time we got there they were not something we could go into. After I had been on the department a few months, I went to Texas A&M for a week of Fire School. It was a very basic course, meant for volunteers.
Just a little while after that, I was home and we were turned out on a "structure fire" just down the road from my home. It was the local community center, which was the new school house. New meaning it had been rebuilt when the old one burned in the early twenty's. It was a historical building for our community. My grandparents had gone to school there, before the school had closed down in the 40's. It was a wood frame building, with wood lathe. It had cottonseed insulation, and wood floors. The floors had been oiled often since being built, so it was going up like a torch.
The fire destroyed the building, I'm sad to say. the fire had become a community event, with folks coming to watch. I had been there for a few hours. I was tired, hot, and wet. Did I mention this was in the middle of summer in Texas? The fire burnt so fast that the walls started falling while trucks were still arriving.
The roof had collapsed, the walls had all fallen, I was squirting hot spots with a red line, thinking about how this piece of history had been lost. All of a sudden I hear a voice calling my name. I look around and see my mother in the crowd, watching and trying to get my attention. I looked up and asked "What?"
She started pointing and saying "there is some fire". I looked at what she was showing me. It was a limb, hanging from a tree that had been next to the building. One small part of the limb had a flame showing on it. The limb was no bigger than my index finger, and the flame was just bigger than a match.
I remember being so tired, and thinking how much of a loss the building was, and my mother was worried about a limb. I can only imagine the look on my face, I looked up and then back at her and said "So?" The crowed around her laughed, whether at me or her or the situation I still don't know.
That's about the earliest specific memory I have, at least of being a volunteer. Maybe because it is newer, I have more memories about starting out as a full time firefighter.
For early memories of volunteering, I remember being excited, proud and eager. I remember driving way to fast to get to the station. I remember leaving guests at home with my wife to go to an emergency. I remember thinking I had really arrived. I just didn't know that I had only begun.