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Test of Courage



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Life of a Firefighter
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In this cynical age, firefighting remains a heroic and noble profession. The images of fire professionals we see on television and in film are often romanticized versions of day-to-day life on the job. What is the life of a firefighter really like?

The Job
According to a 1993 survey, annual starting salaries for firefighters in major cities fall in the range of $28,000 to $46,000 with overtime pay. Firefighters receive health, disability and retirement benefits, and many consider the work schedule beneficial as well (rotating 24-hour shifts). No two days are alike, and the work is as varied as it is unpredictable.

firefighter at fire We run into buildings while other people are running out. - Firefighter's saying

Responding to Calls
Carol Chetkovich in her comprehensive book Real Heat: Gender and Race in the Urban Fire Service reveals what it's like to enter a burning building. "...those entering a building are often confronted with such intense heat and heavy smoke that it is impossible for them to walk upright or to make out their surroundings. They wear face masks and air tanks to allow them to breathe, but the tanks are heavy, the time limited and the breathing process awkward. The location is almost always completely unfamiliar, filled with obstacles and unknown hazards. While the engine crew works on the ground with water to put the fire out, a truck crew ventilates the building, opening a sufficiently large hole in the roof to allow heat, smoke and gasses to escape so that the ground crew can do its work. Roof work is not only dangerous, but generally requires a high level of strength, skill and coordination. If there are possible victims, either crew may become involved in search and rescue (or body recovery), which means working one's way through this foreign environment in darkness and heat, unsure what you may find, taking care not to become trapped or disoriented."

Mark Hoffmann

You leave a little piece of yourself behind at every fire you go to. Maybe you twist your ankle. Maybe you breathe a little smoke. Maybe you see some horrific fire fatality. Every fire you go to, you're beating yourself up, or hurting yourself, diminishing yourself in the long run.

- Captain Mark Hoffmann, Oakland Fire Dept.

In many municipal fire departments, an increasing emphasis is placed on emergency medical services (EMS). Currently at the Oakland Fire Department, 80 percent of calls are EMS calls. In many cases a fire crew is nearer to an emergency than an ambulance or paramedic unit. Most new firefighters are also trained as emergency medical technicians, and candidates with previous paramedic experience are desirable.

Not all of a firefighter's workday is spent responding to calls, however, and not all calls require significant activity. Many times calls involve false alarms or situations where no emergency exists. Firefighters spend a high proportion of their time taking care of nonemergency calls, including activities such as fire inspections, practice drills, physical training, housekeeping and maintenance chores - station maintenance as well as shopping and cooking.


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