Joseph Kitchen, Bath Twp. Fire Department (Lima, Ohio)
We’ve all done it. You are visiting a new city on your vacation and one of the first things you do is check out the nearest fire station. You are keenly aware every time you see an engine, ladder, or medic unit pass by. Your ears perk up at the sound of sirens in the distance. If your family is like mine, you may get some eye rolls and the occasional, “Dad, you are on vacation!” comments. But we can’t help it. We look at the nearest exits to our hotel rooms. We make a mental note of FDC and fire hydrant locations. We can’t help it because firefighters are never really on vacation.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Washington D.C. for the first time. I wasn’t there for training or a conference. I was there with my family to be a tourist. We had a plan to see as many of the monuments, museums, and historical locations as we could squeeze into four days. Overall we did pretty well. The Vietnam Wall, Arlington Cemetery, the Washington monument, and three of the Smithsonian’s were just a few of the places we visited. Two things I learned about D.C. were; it’s hot and humid, and you better wear very comfortable shoes! Kidding aside, I was truly moved by many sites I saw. I stood where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and I lit a memorial candle at the Holocaust Museum.
But, I have to admit one of the highlights for me was my visit to the fire station at 1018 13th St. N.W. in Washington D.C. During my first few days in the nation’s capitol I saw and heard countless emergency vehicles. The department was very busy as the city was filling up with Independence Day tourists. I was fortunate to stop and meet the guys on duty at the 13th Street firehouse, home of Engine 16, Tower 3, Chief 6, EMS 6, & Ambulance 16. An important and historic station in downtown D.C., just blocks from the White House.
The crew was very friendly and gave us a great tour of the 1930’s era station which they excitedly told us has been approved for a remodel and update. I love seeing old fire stations, and this one has the all of the character and charm of any I have visited. But what made this trip to the firehouse special were the guys on duty. The coolest thing about meeting firefighters is that it only takes a few minutes to start immediately connecting and discussing fire service issues. We talked about call volume, staffing, truck repairs, scheduling, and a variety of other typical firefighter topics.
One common theme I often see from city to city is the roles that the guys have within the station. The names and faces may change but the roles stay the same. For instance, I met “the new guy” he didn’t say much as he was busy mopping the kitchen floor. I met “the old timer,” the most senior guy on the shift, and I met the “second generation firefighter” who proudly told me that his father had worked at the very same fire station. This was a great group of firefighters who made us feel extremely welcome.
What struck me the most strongly about my visit to the 13th St. station was the huge amount of pride that these guys have for their department and their great city. They explained that they had seen many historical events and met important dignitaries and political figures from around the world throughout the course of their careers with the Washington D.C. Fire Department. One of the coolest and most memorable parts of my visit was when Captain Shawn Downs explained that Tower 3, his truck, was assigned to respond to the White House in the event of a fire or emergency with one specific duty; protect the President of the United States.
I had a great trip to our nation’s capitol. I crossed a few items off the bucket list and took in as much of the history and culture that one week would allow. Although I was on vacation, I was still in firefighter mode. People in other careers may not understand or relate. Some may think that feeling like your are “always on duty” would be burdensome, but we just realize that we are firefighters 24/7, and we are never really on vacation.
I would like to send a special thank you to the men and women of the Washington D.C. Fire Department and IAFF Local 36, and specifically the crew at the 13th St. station. Thanks for all you do to keep our nation’s capitol safe!
Joseph Kitchen, OFC, is the Chief of the Bath Twp. Fire Dept. (Lima, Ohio.) He began his career in 1990 and has served as fire chief since 2002. He holds degrees in EMS and fire science, and in 2012 was named “Fire Officer of the Year” by the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Follow Chief Kitchen on Twitter @bathtwpchief and visit his department’s website at www.bathtwpfd.com