Jack of Many Trades: Today’s Firefighter

By: Italino “Tony” Pietrantonio

Fire was once a very large problem in many places worldwide causing untold amounts of damage to both property and life. Some of these fires have been remembered through history such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Coconut Grove fire, or most recently the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Entire city sections and / or thousands of lives were often lost because there was no force or organization in place to combat this terror. When people grew tired of the damage and large-scale effects of fire, the firefighter was born. From that day forward fires had a formidable adversary dedicated to protecting life and property.

Firefighters were the answer to a fire.

The problem was that a fire had to show itself for the firefighters to be called and a response to arrive. Those firefighters were a blessing to all who needed them in their time of tragedy. Yet, someone realized that fire prevention would be a better success strategy if we truly wanted to protect lives and property. That realization found its way across many industries causing improvements designed to better protect the populace from fire. The construction industry began looking at different or newer materials including fire resistant treatment for wood and metal for residential construction. Sprinkler systems and smoke detectors found their way into the market. These improvements helped reduce the incident of fire, but the even greater achievement was made through education.

Fire life safety education is a key to reducing the incident of fire in our homes and workplaces. These education programs could not be taught by any or every teacher because this is an area where experience will tell you many things a book cannot. Firefighters were given classes in fire life safety and began visiting schools, churches, or any public location where they could spread the word of preventing fires. Through interactive lecture and hands-on demonstrations, firefighters, in conjunction with other industries improvements, were able to make giant strides in reducing the number of fires. If a firefighter’s job is to fight fire, what are they supposed to do if the fires are greatly reduced?

The answer is become a jack of many trades.

Today’s firefighter is not just trained to fight fire or teach safety programs, but are also trained to respond to medical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, people lost or trapped, hazardous material incidents, and even incidents on the water. Many firefighter training academies teach and certify firefighters to respond to medical emergencies aiding paramedics especially during an incident involving many people. The medical training in most cases is to the level of basic emergency medical technician allowing them to respond to traumatic injury events like a fall from higher than five feet as well as a medical call such as an allergic reaction. Traumatic injuries include those sustained in a vehicle accident. Before a medic or the firefighters can assess and treat any injuries, they must be able to access you in your vehicle. This requires some knowledge on vehicle extrication techniques and tools when all normal options are crushed, blocked, or jammed. The reality is firefighters will get in to save a life either by prying it open or cutting it off. Accidents are not all that can be an issue on the travel ways.

Hazardous materials such as diesel fuel and gasoline are transported daily along our roadways, railways, waterways, and airways. The chance of encountering something hazardous is an almost daily occurrence for firefighters, but some have moved into the specialty of hazardous materials. They are technicians able to recognize, evaluate, and address the hazard further protecting the public. Please do not think this is the end all because we also specialize and train in what has become termed technical rescue. Technical rescue involves unique skills and training to assist people in many non-fire related situations. Firefighters in areas with rural sections may train for aiding people lost or injured in the wilderness. Rivers or oceans front areas mean water rescue. Water which in some case may include the worst-case scenario. In the event of a drowning, firefighters are involved in public safety diving and for many locations are the main agency for diving operations. Urban cities again bring more unique challenges that firefighters stand ready to serve their communities protecting anyone who lives, visits, or passes through. This is the life of a firefighter or shall I say the jack of many trades.

Firefighters at one point in history were the answer to a single problem.

We have spent many years reducing the fire problem to reduce damage and lives lost. As fires decreased, other areas arose that fell into line with other emergency situations that through training a firefighter could respond. Now we are the answer to many multi-faceted problems ranging in difficulty and complexity. Calls that range from smoke investigation to full burning house fire and from a boater in the water to someone lost on a hiking trip. We, as firefighters, have met the challenges head on accepting the increased job duties and training requirements to bring life-saving protection to our communities. So regardless of where you might find yourself when in need, when a local firefighter crew arrives on scene you are in good capable hands.

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