TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – It’s easy to say you want to become a firefighter, but can you really stand the heat?
On track to respond to 10,000 calls just this year alone, at the Terre Haute Fire Department, it’s a job that runs constant.
“That’s why we work 24/7, 365,” said Fire Chief Jeff Fisher, “You never know where that next call is going to come from. You never know when it’s going to be your loved one that’s going to be calling 911 and needing help. It’s never ending, we’re always on duty.”
For the first time this year, the department along with the local firefighters union, put together an opportunity so others can experience the job for themselves. Fire OPS 101 is a training course where citizens can get a first hand look at what it takes to work in fire services.
“The goal is to get people a little more informed and educated about what we do,” said Fisher.
Along with local government and community leaders, we were there too participating in the action. Participants were broken up into groups to perform life-saving tasks in different scenarios, all while wearing full firefighter gear.
“The gear is about 50 to 75 pounds once you get your airpack on too,” Fisher said, “We have to wear that to stay safe because we’ll get burned up. You know from experience, once you put that face mask on that’s a totally different world, unless you’re used to something like that and familiar with it and comfortable with that.”
“Once we get our fire gear, our helmet, our airpacks and everything, it weighs on the body,” he said, “I know people say we’ve got some out of shape firefighters, we’ve got some big firefighters, but these guys do this every day and they do their job very well.”
Under the instruction of THFD, we found ourselves in several scenarios from EMS and medical runs to navigating through a flash fire chamber. All scenarios are just a glimpse of the various calls that fire services may have to respond to on any given day.
While saving a life is always rewarding and the purpose of the job, it comes with great risks to the men and women facing the other side of danger. Fisher says firefighters are often on the front lines of undergoing various health issues and conditions due to the job.
“Firefighters have a high rate of heart attacks, but cancers now because these things that burn nowadays put off these toxics that causes cancer, and we’ve been breathing this in our entire career,” he said, “That’s why we instill in our firefighters to wipe down, clean yourself off before you get back to the firehouse, and once you get back to the firehouse get the gear, get it cleaned, and get ready for another run.”
Among several local leaders participating in Fire OPS 101, we caught up with City Councilman Karrum Nasser and Mayor Duke Bennett to talk about their experience after completing the training course.
“These guys are out here every day doing this kind of stuff and it’s just that part that really hit home with me. It’s an amazing feat what they do every single day,” said Mayor Bennett, “I know police and fire are all expensive to do, that’s just the cost of doing business. We’ve got a very complex city to serve with the railroads and then you just sit and watch this today and it’s like it all just comes together.”
“The physical aspect stuck out to me, all the equipment they have to carry around. They do it when it’s 10 degrees, they do it when it’s 100 degrees, so the fact that they have to be in such physical shape is astounding,” said Councilman Nasser, “I think there’s nobody that feels like a firefighter makes too much. I just think the more education, and me as a councilman gets out, to show what they do each day will help the public know where their finances are going.”
It’s a job that can be physically and mentally exhausting, hard and of course dangerous, but most of all it’s a job done by men and women who truly love serving their community.
“Why would someone want to be a firefighter? With the cancers, with the heart attacks, and injuries, and pulled muscles and ligaments and things… Why would someone want to do this job?” Fisher said, “We do it because we love it. We love what we do, we love helping people. Yeah, there’s adrenaline from running into a burning building, or climbing a ladder, you hear about an accident with entrapment and we know, running through our head, what we have to do get there. These men and women at the Terre Haute Fire Department, these men and women countrywide, nationwide, love what they do and that’s why they do it. We know the risks, and we’re willing to take those for the love of the job.”