I started my fire service volunteer career in 2005. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I remember walking in to the fire station across the street from my high school looking for a way to help people and make a difference. I look back upon that experience and I can still smell the food that was cooking on the stove. When I opened the door to the station, I had no idea what would be behind it. I can recall the stares I got as I stood in the doorway lost and waiting to be invited in. I committed to memory the Chief’s deep, booming voice and commanding presence when he welcomed me and how after I announced my name and why I was there, everyone dropped what they were doing to invite me into the station - their home. Soon, these firefighters would take me under their wing and I would become part of their family.
After I passed my probationary qualification standards, I was issued gear. Shortly after, I ran my first fire call. Adrenaline kicked in as I chaotically ran out to the engine, competing silently to get there before the driver, not wanting them to leave without me. Like the others, I packed out and put my gear on, only I did so in a haphazard frenzy. I wasn’t first in on the attack line but I played an integral role on the fire ground and I undoubtedly committed to memory how amazing it felt to help strangers in the community that were having the worst day of their lives. In front of me, their home burned and my family – the firefighters from my department - worked together to preserve what we could of the property.
My life was forever changed after that fire and I was hooked. It was when I realized the fire service family was one that I wanted to be a part of. During an after action review of the incident, I came to the conclusion that the fire service was full of hard-working, talented and passionate people. I wanted to be one of them.
Several career choices led me down interesting paths and several years later, and I wound up securing a job doing administrative work in the training division of the second biggest city run fire department in the area. Coming from my smaller combination paid/volunteer department, I will freely admit to having experienced a form of shell shock. This department had funding for many things that my volunteer department did not and over time I was able to determine how important the need for continuing education and professionalism is in the fire service. The Battalion Chief that I directly reported to was very encouraging of my career goals and strongly suggested that I complete my education in the fire service.
I'll never ever forget how this Chief gradually but firmly established that education is a defining factor in distinguishing professionals from laypeople and is generally required before entering a profession, not after. He explained to me that the fire service had mixed experience with education. Furthermore, he said that few fire departments required college-level degrees for entry. His encouragement in developing me as a firefighter during my time there led me to apply for college and pursue a bachelor’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management; a career move that I had not otherwise contemplated. Currently, I am also a disaster science fellowship candidate of the Emergency Management Academy.
Shortly after securing a new full time job in the County’s Office of Emergency Management, I was provided with the opportunity to participate in a beta-testing program with TEEX, the Texas Engineering Extension Service’s Recruit Fire Training Academy online. This would provide me with the prospect of formalizing my fire service education and experience through a 12 week program at a world renowned fire training facility without pulling me away from my three year old daughter for an extended period of time and allow me to continue to work.
I will be documenting the formal fire academy journey in the Fire Engineering community through a series of blog posts and invite you to join me. Please post questions and feel free to engage with me. I'm also very active on Twitter and you can follow me here: twitter.com/mkelly007 Thank you for reading!