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Monday, September 04, 2006

Firefigher interview 4

Occupation: Paid Firefighters
Research Question/Focus: How does one become, and what does it mean to remain, professional firefighter?

Thursday May 27th, 1999 at approximately 5:30 p.m.; Name and other identifying information confidential as stated below. For the purpose of this interview he will be referred to as FF1. This firefighter is young male in his early 20's who has been a firefighter for one year. He is a personal acquaintance so there is a degree of informality.

Perez: Formal opening statement: Recording this interview is easier for me than trying to listen and take notes, but if at any time you would like me to turn off the tape, just me know. Also, you don't have to answer any question you are uncomfortable with. Do I have your permission to proceed?
FF1: Yes.

Perez: Thanks. Let's begin with the basics. First, what is your job title?
FF1: Firefighter…what do you mean? Actually, firefighter/emt (meaning emergency medical technician), or firefighter/paramedic. I've cross trained.

Perez: Is that (cross training) typical?
FF1: It's becoming pretty standards around here. I don't know about other areas.

Perez: What is it you do?
FF1: Respond to all medical, trauma, fire, and accident calls.

Perez: Many children have said they want to be a firefighter when they grow up. What drew you to this occupation?
FF1: I don't know, I always wanted to be a firefighter since I was very young. I went into the military for awhile but left when they (the military) would not honor the contract so then I decided to just go for it and begin training for a firefighter.

Perez: Now that you are in the field, how doe sit compare to your expectations?
FF1: This job is all that was expected and more, the danger and hard work were already expected. I really love it.

Perez: What did it take for you to become a firefighter?
FF1: Well, like I said, after I got out of the military I first went to fire academy but it's tough to break into a full-time paid position with only a little experience so I volunteered during my training and then continued to train for my emt and

paramedic certifications. It was really tough because I was working full time and volunteering and going to school. Then I had to pass the state exams and tests for not only the firefighting but the emt and paramedic certifications. After that I had enough experience, skills, and qualifications that all I had to do was apply.

Perez: You did a lot of preparation, will this be your life's career?
FF1: Yes, I haven't decided what route to take in the future: it really depends on what you plan on doing later, either into operations, investigations, etcetera. Maybe firefighter driver, captain, chief, fire marshal…or a lot of other things. Sometimes people start at fire marshal and then become a chief and then from there go on the be chief of fire operations of investigations. I haven't decided which but I'm planning on staying in the field.

Perez: It sounds like you really enjoy the work. What aspects do you find most satisfying about your work?
FF1: Everything about the job is satisfying. Knowing all you do for the community; you are the last American hero. Example, police officers. They are a servant of the community and they do good as well, but people still distrust them and think generally that they are bad. No one can say that about a firefighter. You get great satisfaction from all that you do.

Perez: What do you feel are the drawbacks of your profession?
FF1: Well, being away from you family for days at a time. The pressure involved in knowing that a little mistake could cost you your life or the life of your partner or the people that you are trying to save. But I'm not married yet so it's not as bad for me. Still, it's tough because I don't see xxx( his girlfriend) for days at a time and sometimes she has to sit at home instead of going out on the weekend with me. People worry about me sometimes but they all know how much I wanted this job and what it means to me.

Perez: What about the pressure of those little mistakes that could cost you your life or someone else's...what do you do to handle that?
FF1: I work out a lot and practice martial arts which helps me stay in shape and focus. It also helps keep me clear minded so I don't worry about it much. If you stay sharp you just go on automatic. Plus the more you do it the more comfortable you become. Like the first time I had to jump off a building during training…it was really something. But now it's like no big deal, it just comes automatically and you don't really stop and think before doing it…you just do it. Still, it's always in the back of your mind.

Perez: In what ways is your profession dangerous?
FF1: The entire job is dangerous no matter what you do. You are rushing into a burning building to save a life or put out a fire or medical response time and

like I said before, a little mistake can cost you your life or someone else's. It's all dangerous if your head is not in the right place.

Perez: How would you like to see firefighting safety improved?
FF1: I'd really like to see better equipment to better evaluate buildings that have been on fire to avoid collapses and for motorists and vehicle operators to pay more attention when they are traveling. There are way too many traffic accidents.

Perez: What changes in technology have you seen and what changes would make your job easier?
FF1: Technology is changing firefighting every day. There are always new procedures and techniques and equipment to use and learn. Firefighting procedures are completely different than what they were five years ago and definitely different than what they were two years before that.
Things that would make my job easier would be, again, better technology to evaluate the stability of a building to make sure it wouldn't collapse but other things too like the authority to Baker Act people, more job openings to bring people in…we need more people. Those things would really help even if its not all technology.

Perez: That's fine. It didn't have to be only technology but I'm interested in knowing how you stay current given the rapid pace of change due to technology.
FF1: To stay current I take the state mandated refresher courses and continuing education but I'm also continuing my own training. Not right now because I'm also working another job but I will be later.

Perez: I notice you work two jobs a lot, how do you juggle that schedule?
FF1: Well, I'm single but it's still tough. I had to work two jobs while I was training, one to support myself and the other to pay for the training. Tuition, supplies, books, and all that add up. Now I'm still working two jobs because what I'd really like to do I would still have to pay a lot out of pocket so I'm saving money for living expenses and all that. Sometimes its hard and I get so tired I just crash but really it's okay most of the time.

Perez: Would you mind to share what you would really like to do?
FF1: Eventually I'd like to go work as a wildfire firefighter say for the forestry service. There are some jobs in Florida but most likely I'll end up some place like California or out toward that area…. working with nature in extreme conditions is really challenging and exciting. My 'dream job' is to become a smokejumper.

Perez: What is a smokejumper?
FF1: Y' know, those guys who parachute out of the plane into the line of fire to intersect the path of the fire. It's top of the line when it comes to firefighting. There's also the 'Hotshots" which are ground-bound but smokejumping is really the top in my opinion. It takes a lot of training and you gotta be the best to ever make it to that point. That would be my ultimate job.

Time has run out. We wrap up. Thank him for the interview.


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