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What does the fire department do? If you ask Joe Citizen walking down the street he will reply, “they put out fires”. Yes, our original purpose and still our number 3 job is to fight fires. Years ago, I was one of the guys that moaned and groaned about running a medical call. I have even let the words “I am a fireman, not a medic” slip from my lips from time to time.

As my career has progressed over the years, I see the bigger picture now. Fire Department stands for much more than the organization that responds to fight fires. The new definition of Fire Department is the organization that assists anyone in need and does any job it can to save a life. As firefighters we continue to take on tasks to deepen our level of service. We run the medical calls, we handle the haz-mats, we handle the rescue calls, we cut cars, we do wellness checks, and even tackle a fire from time to time. Why do we dabble in so many roles? It is all for the top two purposes.

When I have been at other fire departments teaching, I always like to ask people why they became a firefighter. The number 1 response I get is “to help people”. If that is true, why do we complain about having to run the “non-fire” calls? I am guilty of it too.

This week I encountered a career altering event that reinforced my understanding of what it is that we actually do. In June of 2012, we were called out for a breathing problem on board an aircraft. When the first two fireman arrived on scene, they found a patient in cardiac arrest. I responded over to assist and worked with EMS for about an hour to save this man. We rotated through round after round of CPR and defibrillated the patient at least 3 times. He survived.

This past week my company was invited to attend the Wake County NC, Cardiac Arrest Resuscitation Ceremony in downtown Raleigh NC. My past Captain and I went to the event. I was a bit uneasy about going to an awards ceremony as I feel that I get paid to do this work. I am happy that the outcome was good, but I didn’t feel right about being rewarded for doing my job. We were awarded a certificate and citation pin and returned to our seats. At the end of the ceremony, the medical director of Wake County, Dr.Brent Meyers, asked if any survivors wished to address the audience. The first man to take Dr.Meyers up on the offer was the man we had saved. Prior to his address of the audience, I had no clue he would be attending. He spoke about our company’s quick actions and how he has resumed a full life following his event. I began to feel something that I had yet to feel in my career. I am not sure that I can put it into words.

Following the ceremony, my past Captain and I went and spoke with the man and his wife. He looked me in the eyes, shook my hand, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, said, “thank you”. It was quite an emotional moment. The man told me how his wife has been sick with cancer and because he is alive, he is able to care for her. We exchanged information and decided that we would keep in touch.

Following this evening, I sat and thought long and hard about what it is I do as a fireman. When people have asked me what I do for a
living, I would proudly tell them, “I fight fires.” Firefighters fight fires. But our top two purposes are saving lives, and helping others. Now when people ask me what I do for a living, I will still proudly tell them that I am a fireman, but I don’t simply fight fires. I help others, no matter what is asked of my company and not just at fires.

Take a minute to ask yourself what it is you do in the fire department. Look at the big picture. Over the past 10 years, the definition of fire department has changed. What is your company’s definition of what you are and do? Take time as a company to create a vision of where it is you want to be, what you want to accomplish, and what level of service you want to provide to your citizens. The sky is the limit. That is what I love so much about this job. The ability to get involved in anything that will help others.

On a final side note, Wake County Fire Departments and EMS successfully resuscitated 95 people in 2012 from cardiac arrest. These people walked out of the hospital and were neurologically intact. This is up from 76 people saved in 2011. This is a statistic I am proud of as a Wake County Fireman. 

Stay safe and serve to save.

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