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Monday, September 04, 2006

Fire Figher Interview

Occupation: Paid Firefighter

Friday, June 3rd, approximately 9:45 a.m.; Name and other identifying information confidential as stated below. For the purpose of this interview he will be referred to as FF. This firefighter is a young male, 27 years of age who has been working as a full time firefighter for 6 years. He is stationed at a rural location.

P: Formal opening statement: Recording this interview is easier form me than trying to listen and take notes, but if at any time you would like me to turn off the tape, just let me know. Also, you don't have to answer any questions you don’t want to answer or that you are uncomfortable with. Do I have your permission to proceed?
FF: yes.

P: What is your job title?
FF: Firefighter-Paramedic.

P: Please explain in simple terms, what your job entails.
FF: It varies from station to station but here we are pretty slow. You sure this won't go to headquarters? {I assure him it will not}. Okay, well, basically we check our equipment and do some chores then sleep. [Laughs] That's kind of a joke. [asks about headquarters again, I reassure him headquarters doesn't get a copy, and he says it really isn't a joke but he doesn't want to get in hot water for it]. Okay, Well, really we're not supposed to sleep during the day but we're not real busy. We run 2-3 calls per shift and they are almost always medical calls. After five we can legitimately sleep and watch t.v., play games, whatever. We don't transport and we have only a few hydrants. Other stations transport and sometimes we do too but only if there is a lot of time in between. This is kinda like the flintstones of firefighting…we are still in the stone age here. We are in line to get a transport but it hasn't happened yet.

P: What steps did you take to become a firefighter?
FF: I went to fire college in Ocala, then to EMT school, then back to become a Paramedic. Once you are a paramedic it is easy to work almost anywhere in Florida but you really must have the Paramedic training. I did a little volunteering but not much. I had to get some experience so I volunteered for a few months but I don't like to work without pay, y' know what I mean?

P: Many children say they want to be a firefighter when they grow up…Was this the case with you? What influenced your decision to become a professional firefighter?
FF: [Laugh's] No…not at all. I probably should get xxx [another firefighter at the station] for this interview…he's a lot more serious about this job. I do this for fun. I like the 24 hour shifts but I have two other jobs 'for real'. This is for fun…and the state retirement, insurance, all that. I plan on getting out in a few more years. I like it and it's really great but I'm not REALLY serious like most of these guys. They all tease me about it and I feel kinda bad but I like it, just not for the rest of my life.

P: What do you mean "for real"?
FF: I own a xxx xxx company and a xxxx [indicates two local companies in town]. I don't really work there…just collect a paycheck…that's my real income but this is what I DO.

P: So, how did you get into firefighting?
FF: Actually, I was pursuing a degree in business at UF when a friend is like, 'hey, I know about this job where we can work a couple or few days a week and make $40,000 a year" so I said, "I want in!". So, I dropped out of school and went to fire college. At first we thought it was just going to be 6 months of training and then we'd go to work and make $40 grand….didn't know it was going to take two more years of training. Really didn't understand what was involved when I first got into it.

P: Now that you are in the career, how does it compare to the expectations you had of the job?
FF: It took a lot more time and training than I thought it was going to….a lot more investment than I thought it would be. But if I were to think about all the jobs out there, this would be the one I would choose to work. I hate 8-5 jobs. Plus, the money is really good for what we do---we really are paid to sleep here. Other stations are really busy, it's like, non-stop. They have calls all day, but you gotta keep your mouth shut and get in at a good station. It's pretty relaxed around here.

P: What aspects do you find most satisfying about your job?
FF: The hours. I'm home more than most people. When I was married, people didn't understand and would say "but you're never home"…really when you think about it, my wife and I didn't see each other from 8-5 anyway and then for an evening. But then I'd be home for two full days at a time. When you figure out the hours, you are home more than most people. So, now that I'm not married anymore, I guess that's one reason more that I keep working here. You have a good time with everyone and it keeps me busy. Also, the pay and retirement. You're vested after ten years and have full retirement after 25. People don't really understand it but firefighters are different. We think about thing different. It's hard to explain.

P: What are the biggest drawbacks of your profession?
FF: Not being in your own bed at night and that 2 a.m. running. I think that's the only really stressful thing about my job. We are pretty slow at this station. But you always get those 2 a.m. calls and you are half asleep and trying to rush out to get somewhere.

FF: In what ways is your profession dangerous?
The high speed driving with crazy people on the road. You're going out into all types of weather, we have to drive in the rain or thunder and lightening…all the environmental things. And the fire itself but pretty much any time we leave the station we are at risk.

P: How would you like to see firefighting safety improved?
FF: I just don't want to get killed. [ Laughs]. They are always coming up with something new but the real problem is manpower. We need more people. For example, we run a 2 man engine and it's illegal. That's better than some because we at least have two full time paid firefighters here all the time, some others don't even have that…station xx [a "sister station" in the town] only has one full time firefighter and a volunteer. Like today, xx [ the firefighter at the other station] is the firefighter on duty. He's working as a firefighter for the weekend with one volunteer, but the rest of the week he's captain at xxx [ another agency]. The state says we are to have a minimum of three on every engine…we are supposed to never go into a burning building without two people but we do…or we have to go in together but then there's nobody outside watching for us. Two man engines!! [ Says this very emphatically as a buddy walks by and gives him a little warning…once again asks if this goes to headquarters and I assure him it doesn't…then he says…toward the direction of the other firefighter…" I don't care, it's true]. We are Never supposed to go into a burning house without someone else outside to watch the structure and give us warning…that' at a bare minimum…but we don't even have that. Then they talk about training, but all the training…I mean it's good to keep your skills up and all that, but your' adrenaline kicks in and everybody is doing what they've been trained to do. Plus every situation is different and you really don't know how you will really react every time, you just go on adrenaline. The training helps some, like we don't do many big fires and all, but really what good is the training if we don't have enough manpower. I mean that's the real problem! [ Emphatic]. That's what will end up getting someone killed. Every year someone is really hurt or killed, and you wonder if this is why. Anyway, I just think there needs to be more manpower.

P: What changes in technology have you seen in your job?
FF: Medical mostly. The fire technology has stayed, in a lot of ways the same. There is some innovative equipment but we are really still in the stone age of firefighting out here. The one exception I would say is the Carnes/Karnes [ Note: I don't know spelling and didn't want to interrupt to ask] infrared heat detector for structural fires. That's pretty helpful. We also have better water resources. There's been a lot of changes in building codes and things outside the department which really make a big difference. Mainly though the big changes are in medical. I mean, every 6 months there is some new med [medication] you have to learn about…it's a lot to keep up with…big variety of other medical changes. Defib's have gone hands-free, they said there was a problem with to many people getting shocked accidentially, so now you don't have to do it manually. Thing's like that. The medical side changes fast. In a lot of ways, firefighting is becoming more medical…it's like our job is more about medical emergencies than fires. That's especially true here…almost all our calls are medical unless there's a big fire out in the forest area or something. But it's true in other places too because building codes have condemned and torn down all the structurally unsound homes…that helps a lot. And sprinkler systems, fire alarms, things like that keep structural fires to a minimum when they do happen. Plus educating people like at Christmas… heaters, lights, that type of thing. Instead, we respond to a lot of medical emergencies. Out here, we contract with private ambulance services to transport because we are more than ten minutes away from the hospital…xxx county really tries to stay away from contracts except for the ambulance services which really is a contract…but any time people are more than ten minutes away then we respond. That's one reason you have to be a paramedic to do firefighting any more…the medical aspects are taking over the job. Medical is bigger than firefighting.

P: What changes would make your job easier?
FF: Manpower. There was a hiring freeze and there are still so many more people needed. There are enough people out there to fill the jobs but there's not enough money to put them on full-time. Plus the budget limits access to other equipment…like our transport or more equipment, training. Things like that. But the real problem is manpower.
P: How do you stay current with new technological changes?
FF: Trade magazines. You know, we get them and say 'hey did you see this? Or hey, did you see that?"…that's about it. XXX county doesn't really pay to send us to the expos' and things like that. There's some mandatory training we have to go to once in awhile, that's about it.


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