Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional story series about “A Day in the Life” of city and county professionals.
Steam carries the rich aroma of mountain-roasted beans, tickling the noses of Station One firefighters in Bartlett. Most everyone has a cup, and all are in good spirits. Stories and smiles are shared as the firefighters finish breakfast. Equipment and trucks are ready as all wait for the first call to come in. The station is alive, a family, and they are buzzing around and making fun of each other and laughing, yet ready to pounce on a fire whenever it comes alive.
Fighting fires is what the pros at Station 1 are ready to do every day. They come into work ready to aid the public, no matter how big or small the emergency is.
“Of course it’s about helping other people,” said Lt. Blake Grisson. “I think I have a servant’s heart and that’s why I did this job initially, to be of service because that’s where I fall, in service. After I got here I realized that you get to help a lot of people a little bit, and not often do we get to help a few people a lot.”
Being a firefighter requires someone willing to sacrifice personal safety and able to enjoy the company of other workers. They are a close group.
“I also love this job because I have a family here; they are what make it special,” Grisson said. “My favorite time of the day is when I am sitting around the breakfast table with my family having a good time, because in a split second it could be game time and we’re out there doing what the badge says, fire and rescue. We go from having a good time at the breakfast table to it’s serious and possible life or death.”
He ensures that all the equipment and men are ready each day. They run through checks and ensure everyone knows what must be done during any kind of call. However, he does allow some playtime around the firehouse.
“We all like to fight fires, that’s the pinnacle of our job. But in-between those fires I try to keep it light, like this morning with the biscuits.” Grisson chuckled. “A guy kept switching out another guy’s thawed biscuits with frozen ones so he kept turning up the oven to cook them and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t cooking until we told him. This is a tight-knit group of guys. They hang out with each other on their days off, and when one of us has a problem we all get together as a family.”
Being physically fit is an important part of being a firefighter. If you can’t lift a hose and carry it around the station or take a sledge hammer to a giant tractor tire, you are not going to be able to knock down walls in a fire or carry the hose from the truck to the scene. That is why Grisson gets creative with his physical fitness. He had his firefighters taking a sledge hammer to a tractor tire, jumping up onto a level ladder, and doing “burpies” to strengthen lower and upper body muscles.
“This job is physically demanding; therefore we have to PT this afternoon. It’s part of the preparation of this job,” Grisson said. “We have to be ready and that’s how we prepare. The circuit training keeps it fun.”
Becoming a firefighter is not a job for everyone, but some were born into it and others couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk all week long.
Twelve-year veteran firefighter driver Ryan O’Neil said, “I’ve always known I was going to be a firefighter since I was little. I didn’t want to be stuck to a desk eight hours a day, five days a week. This job is exciting, rewarding, and challenging. There’s always something different.”
Firefighter Jensen Pilant agreed. “It’s something I’ve been around, growing up around the fire station all my life, hearing the stories. I like the excitement, energy, the brotherhood. It’s the best job in the world.”
Fighting a fire can be an exciting job. You are responsible for helping other people in their time of need, and sometimes you can get wrapped up in all of the energy and ignore the danger.
Pilant explained, “Fighting a fire is an adrenaline rush. You’re excited and you want to move fast, but you have to be slow and methodical and not get lost.”
Most of the time when firefighters show up to a scene, they are dealing with negative events such as severe accidents where the jaws of life are used, or a major house fire where a family’s home is burning down to the ground, but every now and then they get to do something that brings hope to their hearts: They get to save a life.
“The cool calls are when we get someone back from full arrest and to the hospital. It doesn’t happen much — it’s rare,” Pilant said. “But then you get to talk to the family and tell them the good news. That is cool.”
Written by John Collins, special to the Express.