My most recent posts on this blog were a little somber. In the days since those posts, the country has lost at least two more firefighters that I know about. I make no apologies for taking a few moments to remember these – and all – firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Everyone should. Each year in this country, we still lose around a hundred firefighters in the line of duty as a result of cardiac arrests, traffic accidents, fire entrapments, job-related cancers, and a variety of other causes.
With more than a million active duty firefighters in the U.S., a hundred firefighter deaths doesn’t seem like a lot – mathematically, it’s a fraction of one percent. But firefighters most assuredly do not see the loss of their brothers and sisters as a cold, impersonal number; a single firefighter death is one too many.
Firefighting is inherently dangerous. When any call could potentially head south and become the last alarm, you might wonder just why people choose to become firefighters. The reasons are as different and complex as firefighters themselves.
Whether or not a paycheck is involved, being a firefighter is a way for people to serve their communities. They are, and they want to be, the people the rest of us call when there’s a fire, vehicle accident, or natural disaster.
For some, firefighting is almost a calling, perhaps one that was recognized in childhood and nurtured through adulthood. A number of firefighters are the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, or nephews of firefighters. They've grown up around the fire service and can’t see the appeal of any other career.
Unquestionably, most firefighters thrive on the challenges and unpredictability of the job: One minute you’re mopping the floor and the next you’re racing down the street to a fully involved structure fire. And after that you could go back to the mop, or perform a complex extrication at a vehicle accident, or help an elderly person who’s fallen. It’s like a daily game of alarm roulette.
Full-time and seasonal wildland firefighters are typically outdoorsy types who love being out in nature.
And a few firefighters – very few in my experience – are there solely because it’s a job, a means to paying the rent and putting food on the table that’s no different than being a mechanic or an accountant or a cab driver. They report for work, put in their time, and go home to count the days until retirement.
However, regardless of motivation, there is one commonality among most firefighters: a passion for the job. Engage firefighters in conversation about their work, and you’ll see their eyes light up and hear a different tone in their voices. Firefighters enjoy meeting other firefighters from different states and countries because of the camaraderie, the shared experience, and the opportunity to compare notes about departments, apparatus, and operations. The only person who truly understands a firefighter is another firefighter.
Writers, if you have a firefighter in your story, dig deep to find out why he or she chose this particular profession. The answer just may surprise you.