A Glimpse Into Volunteer Firefighting

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is my entry for Booksie's High School Essay Competition! I wrote this at the beginning of this semester as a creative non-fiction essay for an assignment :)

Submitted: January 20, 2017

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Submitted: January 20, 2017

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A Glimpse into Volunteer Firefighting

 

Some jobs require a person to be away from their families for extended periods of time, and these jobs involve experiencing plenty of life changing moments. Some of these experiences could have both positive and negative effects, and in my dad’s case of being a volunteer firefighter over ten years ago, he came out of the job with many stories to tell regarding the good times and the bad. It was a time in his life where he was fairly young and had a lot to learn, and by starting this job, it was the beginning of something he would have never expected.

As a child, my dad always dreamed of being a police officer. It would allow him to work for the public and allow him to feel a sense of accomplishment by catching all of the bad people to protect the community. He never imagined he would become a volunteer firefighter, even if it meant he was still working for emergency services and protecting people; in fact, he was scared of fire. He decided that he would give volunteer firefighting a try so that he could overcome his fear of fire and to help the community as much as he could. At the age of twenty-six, he applied for the position, and in order to be certified, he had to enrol in the Ontario Fire College to prepare himself for the grueling and life changing career. For between three and six months, my dad went for training every second weekend, which included auto extrication, flash-over recognition, ice water rescue, search and rescue, forest fire, and advanced first aid. Being trained in all of these areas was crucial so that any call he received, he would know the proper procedures, know how to execute them to ensure the safety of everyone around him, and know what to do in just about any situation. He remembers that, on his very first day working as a volunteer firefighter, nothing would have prepared him for the shocking, unexpected, gut-wrenching call he responded to: “My very first call was a friend of the family that was killed in an industrial accident in the bush” (J. North). Having to be on the scene of a fatal accident involving someone he knew nagged at him and proved that this was not going to be an easy job. And as the days progressed on, my dad found that the hours were very straining; sometimes his shifts were as long as eighteen hours, since he had to stay on the scene until he was given permission to go home.

For the two years my dad was on the job, there were plenty of ups and downs. Each call was different, so whether the experience would be good or bad, he wouldn’t know until he arrived on the scene. A few months after he began working with the Manitouwadge Volunteer Fire Department, he and his coworkers arrived at the scene of a car accident - one of many - but once they all got there, accepting reality was suddenly difficult. It was described by my dad as the worst experience he had ever had while on the job. “We went to go and get the guy out, and you could tell it wasn’t gonna be good. We got him out and he ended up dying” (J. North). This was the first time my dad had come face to face with a fatality, but he knew that it wasn’t going to be the only time, which made the job that much more difficult for him. Guilt ravaged him as he’d thought over how he and his coworkers could have saved the man, maybe gotten to the scene earlier or somehow prevented the accident altogether. Aside from all the negativity, though, my dad also had some of the best experiences of his life working as a volunteer firefighter. Since my siblings and I were so young, my dad really enjoyed showing us some of the work he did because he knew it fascinated us. Sometimes he drove the fire truck, and he would drive us around town whenever he wasn’t busy. This was a great way for him to connect with us after spending so much time away from home to perform dangerous duties. He would often receive calls in the middle of the night, causing an adrenaline rush to go through him and stress to settle in. “It wasn’t frustrating; it was more stressful because you didn’t know where you were going or what you were gonna see. Sometimes you’d get a small house fire, and sometimes you’d get a fatality. You just wouldn’t know” (J. North). During one of my dad’s experiences, he found a man involved in an industrial accident that had been run over by a skidder and was completely crushed, every bone in his body shattered. And when my dad was often surrounded by flames in burning buildings, debris tumbling down all around him, he didn’t have to think about never making it out because he was trained to know when it was time to leave, but still, there was always the slightest chance he could become trapped, and it was something that definitely worried my mom. My siblings and I were too young to understand; we just thought it was cool that our dad was a firefighter.

Coming home after a long day on the job made my dad feel thankful. He’d survived another call, and he could still come home and see us. He’d had some pretty close calls, but his coworkers were reliable, and he always knew that they had his back because of their training. Becoming a volunteer firefighter definitely changed his perspective of life on several levels, and on top of that, he received several certificates and had experiences that he would never forget. In one particular incident, a man driving a transport truck had been hit by a train, and when my dad arrived at the scene, he and his coworkers were informed by a police officer that it was yet another fatality. Preparing himself for what he might see, my dad stepped out into the bush toward the tracks, noticing immediately that the entire front end of the truck was gone, and the man was visible from where my dad stood. It was his job to remove the man’s body from the driver’s side, but to my dad’s shock, the man began to cough - he was alive! It was a miracle he’d survived; shards of glass were embedded in his skull, and he’d suffered from several broken bones as a result of the traumatic collision. Because my dad had responded quick enough, the man was transported to the hospital for treatment, and his life was saved. Nobody had expected this man to survive in the first place. Each call my dad responded to after that, he went into it attempting a positive attitude even if the outcome didn’t look good, because he discovered that life could decide to give you another chance at any point. In that incident, my dad got to achieve his main goal, which was to help people that needed him the most, and with every other scene he’d arrived at, he’d also learned to get over his fear of fire, since his job required him to race into buildings engulfed in flames. He kept this job for two years, but there came a time when he had to give it up and move on with his life, starting with moving to a new city. “We moved to Sudbury, where I got a better paying job at Inco, and I couldn’t do it anymore. For such a short amount of time in such a small town, I saw a lot of stuff you can’t unsee” (J. North). He may no longer work as a volunteer firefighter now, but he left the job with several stories to share with us and gained many life lessons over the course of those two years. “Value your life, value what’s in it, and value your coworkers. You learn trust for sure” (J. North). He believes that this job opens a person up to many different opportunities, and would he recommend it to anyone? Yes! Anyone looking to help people would definitely be able to do just that by deciding to become a volunteer firefighter.

My dad has had many jobs in the past, but being a volunteer firefighter was the one job he had that still fascinates me to this day. Listening to his stories made me learn that being a volunteer firefighter doesn’t just mean putting out a house fire or rescuing someone’s cat from a tree - it is so much more than that. It is getting up at three o’clock in the morning to leave your family and fear what you might see. It is having to accept that you couldn’t save the guy who ended up dying no matter how hard you tried to bring him back. And most importantly, it is making a difference in the lives of others. A few months back, my dad applied to go back into volunteer firefighting, this time in Sudbury, and although he never got a call back, he still holds out the hope that he can do it again someday. It’s the little things like this that make me believe that my dad is truly a hero, and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the world.


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