My earliest memory takes me back to the days when I was still in diapers. I actually remember wearing them and being just tall enough that I could peer out the window of my upstairs bedroom in New Britain, Connecticut.
My view was from the second floor allowed me to see New Britain Fire Department station 4. I remember they had a red light outside the station, I could see it at night. I remember staring at that fire station all the time, just waiting for those doors to open and see the fire trucks with their blinking lights and siren, come rolling out. I don't recall ever actually seeing any trucks roll out of that station, but that didn't stop my imagination from pretending that they were. I had plenty of toy fire trucks to play with, something little boys love to do.
|Roy and Johnny|
I also remember, with clarity I might add, watching the television show Emergency!. I remember thinking that they actually filmed the show inside the TV station that my father worked at back then, WHNB (later WVIT). I remember wondering how they fit all those fire trucks inside the station. I remember my dad bringing home autographed copies of 8x10 black and white photos of fire fighter " Johnny Gage" and paramedic "Roy DeSoto". Such vivid memories and thoughts. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life, and that has never changed.
Fast forward 40 something years, and am I pursuing this dream? I'm happy to say, yes! Of course, circumstances in my life never really allowed me the dream of being a full time 'career' fire fighter come true. It never seemed like either the time was there for the training, or the money, or whatever.
I did manage to join a volunteer ambulance service once I was out from under my parents roof. In fact that was one of the very first things I did once I was moved into my new place at the tender age of 21. Being a stupid kid of just 21, I didn't plan things too well, and while I did have a great time driving for the ambulance service, I never finished the EMT class that I was in because I ended up moving to Florida.
But while in Florida, I managed to join the Martin County fire department as a volunteer. I successfully completed a combat fire fighting class and volunteered my time when I could. It was short lived because I ended up moving to Maine.
While in Maine, I joined the Rockland fire department as a volunteer. Again, more training, more classes, but in the end, nothing I could use to apply as a full time FF somewhere. That ended when I moved to South Carolina.
While in South Carolina, I started the process of joining the Piedmont vol. fire department (which was full of good 'ole boys who were career firemen), but in the end, I just didn't like the feel of the department, so I never finished the process of joining.
About a year went by, and an EMT class became available to me at the local college, and I signed up immediately. Six months and $650 later, I was a South Carolina licensed Emergency Medical Technician. License #23106, and I could not have been prouder, I mean, if a person could literally bust open with pride, it would have been me. But not 'proud' in a boastful way, just sincerely happy and satisfied that I had accomplished one of my life's goals. Next thing was to join the local Rescue service in Pelzer, South Carolina, but not as a volunteer this time, but as a full time medic. My dreams were so close to coming true that I could taste it.
The Pelzer S.C. Rescue service had agreed that if I came to work for them, they would reimburse me for the cost of the EMT class. This is common practice among both career and volunteer services. I successfully interviewed and got the job as a medic. I was beside myself with happiness. I was given a radio, a pager, and a sweet new uniform complete with shiny badge. I was to report to work the next day.
Day one. I show up to work at Pelzer Rescue. My shirt has been starched 3 times, my badge...shiny as new. I can't wait to get started. The chief at the time brought me in to his office and sat me down to welcome me aboard. As I sit in a big comfy chair, surrounded by framed licenses, plaques, awards and pictures, the chief took his seat, lit up a pipe, and began to talk.
The first words out of his mouth were as follows: "Let's get one thing straight right away, we don't hire no women, and no n*ggers". End quote. My heart began to sink. I had a sick feeling in my gut, my feeling of total bliss had been crushed with 15 words. I suddenly realized something that everybody around me had been saying since I moved to S.C......racism was alive and well, so just get used to it. This was the deep south, the home of corn bread and pinto beans.
I quit the next day, turned in my gear, and found a job in retail in the city. The only reason I didn't get a job with the county EMS service was I needed a hire level of training, something I could not afford to do. I would settle for a job in retail sales, and just suck it up. There was no volunteering as an EMT in the area that I lived, everything was county based, so I was stuck.
I spent the next 6 years living and breathing thick, humid southern air. When the time was right, I high tailed it out of there and headed back to Maine where we found a home to rent in Liberty. I immediately joined the Liberty vol. fire department. But it too was short lived, I simply did not have the time to give them. Shortly after that, we moved to the town of Belfast, Maine.
In Belfast, the local vol. department was 'full', because they only had room for a certain number of volunteers because each got paid 'per call' and the budget was tight. I would not be able to volunteer with them. But I became friends with the chief at the time, and he allowed me to show at accidents and fire to take pictures.
About 7 years passed, and we found ourselves moving to Albion, Maine, to be closer to my parents. We were not even completely unpacked and I was knocking at the door of the local vol. fire department. I showed up in a sports jacket during one of their monthly meetings, stood there until the meeting was over, and when asked, I introduced myself (and my son, Robbie, who was with me that night). I explained why I was there, they gave me an app, and voted me in the next month. It was December 2012, and I was in.
|Today I train hard, such as in this car fire exercise.|
Today I am happy to say that I am able to respond to most calls that come into our small farming town of 1200 people. We also offer mutual aid support to many surrounding towns. In January 2014, a new EMT class starts, and I am determined to take it. It's going to cost me nearly $800 out of my own pocket, but I get that money back once I pass the 'National Registry" EMT exam. I will take the course. I will pass the exam. I will continue in my quest to provide emergency care to my neighbors and friends.
|Robbie at age 6.|
In the meantime, I have a son, who will be 10 soon. This young man has been watching my Emergency! DVD series since before he could talk. He would just sit and stare at the TV while Johnny and Roy do their thing. If DVD's could wear out, he would have done it. He has been crazy about being a fireman since then, his excitement
for being a fire fighter has never waned. Over the years, he has made friends with various firemen, some became good friends. He was just 5 when one of them gave him an old (but functional!) fire pager. Then someone else gave him an old turnout coat and helmet. Then the fire chief of Belfast gave him another helmet, a more modern one. All of that gear was much to big for him at the time, but he wore it with a smile and a twinkle in his young eyes.
A twinkle I suspect I had in my eyes when I was his age.
|Robbie wearing my helmet. Age 10.|
Today I'm 43, and the dream of becoming a full time FF/Medic has not faded. Time has taken its toll, my body is not in the same shape as when I was in my 20's, but my spirit is strong and determined. My son is also determined, and I will support him in any endeavor he chooses. If chooses to pursue a career in the fire service, I will be there, supporting him. If that happens, the twinkle in my eyes will be replaced with tears of joy as I see my young fireman pursue his own dreams.
Until then, I'll continue to watch him as we both share the same dream. I'll continue to watch him grow, and I'll stay safe in my own duties so I can be around when someday he puts on his department issue gear and takes his first call.