Interview With Volunteer Fireman Dave
This interview is done with Dave M. He is a volunteer fireman in the state of Illinois for a rural fire department. In this interview, he explains that his father was a fireman and the influence his dad had on him is what drove him to follow his footsteps. We would like to extend our appreciation to Dave for not only doing this interview, but for the work he does and the morals he stands by.
Dave, tell us a little about growing up as the child of a firefighter.
Well, for as long as I can remember, my father was in the fire service. My childhood was full of memories of watching my dad hurry out the door to respond to a call, the feeling of pride I had for what he was doing. I can remember at grade school age, I was excited to go to school the next day and brag about how my dad had gone to put out a fire or help someone in a car wreck. Any time there was something on the news, the kids at school would catch me as soon as I arrived to find out if my dad had gone. The funny thing was, it really didn’t even matter if the incident was even nearby, they just thought that if there was something on the news, my dad was there.
I also remember having so much fun at all of the fire house functions. Most of the others on the department were like uncles to me. It was like going to a big family reunion every time, and I really enjoyed them. Things like pancake breakfasts, car washes, fish fries, and food drives, were all so much fun and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to help out and be “a grownup”.
That sounds awesome Dave. Was your mom also involved, or was it more of “a guy thing”?
Yes, my mom was involved. All of the wives and girlfriends were, and we were all like a big family. I would spend nights at the homes of other fireman, and play with their kids, and some of them were my best friends growing up. All of us kids shared much the same strong bond as the adults in the department. It was just a really tight knit group of people that would do anything for each other, and anyone for that matter.
When were you finally able to start being a fireman?
Well, officially I could not respond on calls and things until I was 18. But, as a young teenager, I started to actively participate in things around the department. I would go in on cleanup days and help out by washing trucks and cleaning gear. I would even help out in the office a bit. My mom was secretary for a while and when she would go in to do mailings, I would go in and help her sort letters and things. As soon as I turned 18, I was ready to go though. I wanted to be able to hop on one of those trucks so bad, I couldn’t wait. Plus, I already knew how to operate almost everything.
I guess that growing up and being so active around the fire house, you would learn a lot. Did that help you when you were finally an official fireman?
Oh my yes. By the time I was old enough to be considered a fireman, I was pretty darn familiar with almost every piece of equipment. I knew how to operate the engines and pumps. I had already even driven a few of the trucks. Not very far, and most times just things like backing them into the garage bay and stuff.
I would say that by growing up around the department, like I did, it really made me a much better fireman. By the time I was 18, I already felt like one of the senior guys there, and most of them had already come to respect me as a fireman. It was actually quite an honor for me when the guys would even pull practical jokes on me.
Practical jokes? Is this normal, and what types of jokes?
Oh, it’s normal. In fact, in our department, it is a good sign they like you when they prank you. It is sort of an initiation, you might say. It’s all in fun of course, and nobody is ever hurt. It’s just good old fashioned horse play during down time, and it really helps to make the job more enjoyable by taking some stress away.
Most of the practical jokes around our station were just little things. You know, like filling someone’s boots with water, or freezing their gloves in a block of ice. I remember one guy even had a basket of fish left in his car for a couple of days. I will neither confirm nor deny if I was involved in that incident.
How do you think being a fireman has made you into who you are today?
Well, I truly think that by growing up in such a family atmosphere as I did, it made me cherish times like those. It also makes me feel like I am part of something important. I wake up every day proud of whom I am, and I know there are a lot of people out there that cannot say that. I really and truly love what I do, and I would not trade my time with the guys at the department for anything in the world, besides my own family.
Is there a reason why you have not decided to become a full time fireman?
Yes, there are a couple of reasons. I have some very close friends that are full timers, and although they share many of the same memories and feelings as I do, they will also admit that there is a small something lost in a full time department. A full time department is very political sometimes, and because there are several shifts, many of the guys will often bicker among guys on other shifts and such. It is all too much like a real job to me, and I really enjoy the feeling I have when I go into my station and see all my fellow fireman. I just fear losing some of that by moving to a paid, or full time, department.
Also, my current full time job is in a factory. Granted, it is not what I would prefer to be doing, but it is what pays my bills. I just really enjoy being a volunteer for my community, and as long as I can work a job that pays my bills, and still be able to be a fireman for my community, that’s what I’m going to do.
What type of training do you have, and do you plan to keep doing more training? If you don’t plan to become a full time fireman, would you still invest in the training?
I currently am trained in firefighting, but I am also a Hazmat Technician, I hold a First Responder certification, and CPR certification. I have also had training in some areas, like dealing with meth labs, and explosives.
I would love to go to school and get my associates degree in fire science. Along with that, I would like to do more training in things like terrorism. In this day and age, you just never know what could happen. I live and serve a rural area, but with a very large city only 50 miles away, it would not at all be unrealistic for me to have to someday respond there. Look what happened in New York. They had to call in people from departments in other states to help.
Dave, what would you have to say that you are most proud of in your career?
I have lots of reasons to be proud. However, if I had to give an idea, it would just be that I am proud of what being a firefighter has made me. I am proud of how I grew up, and the man I have become. Even more so, I have 2 young boys, and knowing that they will get to experience the same things I did, makes me so very proud. I guess to sum it up, I am proud that by being a volunteer firefighter, I have the chance to do good things in life, and carry on the same moral and traditional values that my father and grandfather did. The fires today may be bigger and caused by different means, but the job is just as dangerous as it was back then and things around station are virtually still the same.
What is one of the fondest memories you have of either growing up at the department or being a firefighter?
My fondest memory would have to be when I was about 20 years old. My dad and I were both working a very large fire at an apartment building. When we got there, the fire had pretty much taken over half of the building. There were still a couple of residents inside. They were elderly and could not get out on their own. We managed to get everyone out, get the fire put out, and not a single person was hurt. The fond memory comes from getting back to station after the run. We got everything cleaned back up and as we were all sitting around telling our tales of the run, I just remember the feeling I had. It was such a good feeling in the air, and you could just tell that every person there was feeling it. It was a feeling that we had just done our job and did it well. We saved lives that day and we knew that we had made a difference. It was just such an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, and you could see it on the face of everyone involved. I remember wishing that I was back in grade school, just so I could run in the next morning and tell all my friends what I had seen and done.
Dave, thanks for doing this interview. I think it really sheds a bit of light on what it is like to grow up around a volunteer fire department, and what it is like to be a volunteer fireman. Again, I applaud what you do, and mostly, I am thankful just to have met a person like you.