Special Note-  Tonight’s Firefighter Netcast at 8pm asks YOU why are you a firefighter?  Weigh in with your opinion.  For all the information, see http://firefighternetcast.com

Why am I a firefighter?

Because I never grew out of the childhood dream to be one.  I guess it’s still possible that I might grow up and reach my potential, but there’s only so many years available, so I doubt it.  This firefighting thing has stuck in my blood for a long time.

Not a great story here of interest to anyone- but me.  I guess I could tell you that I like to help people, and enjoy the excitement of the job.  It’s all been said by hundreds of thousands before me. Although its an overused cliché, it still accurately describes why I’m in the fire service.

Unlike many of the fine men and women in the fire service, there is no family member that led the way.  I am not the fourth generation firefighter, and I didn’t grow up around firefighters or in a firehouse.

But, as I grew up in the 70’s, the fire service was evolving as well.  The decade brought us “Dazed and Confused” and the rise and fall of disco also brought the birth of paramedicine, and much was being done in the public eye that was inconceivable just ten years earlier.

Ambulances equipped with only the most basic of medical supplies and oxygen served only as taxis to the hospitals (so that hasn’t changed much in some places, has it Happy?).  Very little life-saving was accomplished in the glorified station wagons with lights and sirens.  In fact, ambuli used to be owned and driven by funeral directors. Talk about an opportunity for repeat customers!

The fire department in my home town ran the ambulance when I was old enough to notice.  They graduated their first class of paramedics, and a couple of those original guys are still doing their thing on suburban Chicago fire departments today.

Then came the TV show Emergency!

For an impressionable young lad who already “ran to the curb” (as so aptly described by my good friend Tiger Schmittendorf) whenever the screaming sound of fire apparatus approached, the show tipped it in for me.


I was hooked.  I wanted to be a paramedic/firefighter.

As soon as I could, I enrolled in an EMT-basic course straight out of high school.  I secured a job in a business within running distance of the volunteer fire station owned by a firefighter who, at times, would allow his employees respond to calls from work.  So, with EMT
certification in hand, I applied for and quickly secured a spot on the fire department.

While the paramedic side of the fire service was the initial lure for me, that quickly changed.  I had the incredible fortune of joining right before an incredible first drill night- an actual burn down of several buildings.  They strapped on this air pack thing and sent me crawling in behind a young lieutenant into an interior fire. 

No hose line, no water can.  Just to experience the heat. 

If I remember correctly it was only a burn barrel, but my instructor, Tom,  made sure we felt the effects. With extremely limited visibility and very hot temperatures, I made sure Tom felt a little more heat by pulling his 3/4 boot right off his foot as we scrambled out.  To this day, he hasn’t forgotten the young rookie who did that to him. 


Next up, they wanted to make sure this new guy could climb an extension ladder and a roof ladder, then cut a ventilation hole directly over the fire room.  As the third cut was completed, the flap fell in and the fire came exploding out of the hole sending me reeling backward with a revving K-12 almost causing a fall.

Back then, we learned literally in our “trials by fire”.  No NFPA 1403 yet in place.  Although not nearly as safe, it sure was cool, and definitely served its purpose in a way we don’t see anymore. I had discovered the pure thrill of battling the red devil and this boy was hooked!

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it- with pride.  I urge all of you to remember how you got your start and what it was that motivated you down the path you took to get you where you are today.  I urge you to remember the feeling of excitement and invigoration you felt when you first found out you were to become a firefighter! 

It’s what I call feeling stoked, and it’s how I like to end most of my ramblings.

Stay stoked!

John Mitchell is a fire Lieutenant and paramedic in suburban Chicago.

He is a fire and EMS instructor, certified fire investigator and Chicago
Blackhawks fan.

John is the editor of FireDaily and co-creator of FirefighterNetCast.

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After almost 30 years doing this my dream is still alive and strong today. To be my best and give my best regardless of the circumstances and provide the service to save life, property and environment. Now it is my goal to as well pass this on to my Officers and members of the Department. The fire burns hot in my heart to continue this dream and goal in any manner I can.
First, I want to correct you by saying this story was interesting to someone besides you--- me! By the end, I was remembering my early days, my first calls and the rush of overwhelming emotions I felt when I first realized helping people in their darkest hour was my calling.

I found it difficult to hold back the tears remembering the faces of some of the people served on my path to present day. After almost thirteen years in the fire service, I still get that rush of adrenaline and the chill down the back of my neck when the alarm sounds.

Thank you for provoking all the treasured memories I had forgotten, it was much needed. May you be blessed in all your days and stay safe out there. ~Tammy
Thanks, Tammy, right back at you! I'm very happy you are able to enjoy the memories and the feelings they provoke. Powerful stuff when you think about it....
With that attitude, you and your department are so well served. I completely agree that the time is now to pass on that same attitude of motivation as we enter our golden years in the fire service. Don't be afraid to call in tonight, we don't bite.

Thanks for your service, Chief!
I agree whole heartedly Tammy. Well put!
Thanks Chief and FireDaily.com!
In 1976, when I was 10 and my brother was 12, we were playing with a coffee can full of gas and dried out corn stalks. We would dunk the corn stalks in the gas and light them on fire. As you can imagine the gas got on the outside of the can and caught on fire. My brother, not knowing any better, thought it would explode. He gave the can a kick, unfortunately I was standing right on the other side of the can. Subsequently I received third degree burns on 75% of my body. Now I don't really remember a great deal of pain (once you reach third degree the nerve endings are pretty much gone), but I do remember relief from pain. One of the medics on the ambulance sprinkled cool water on my chest and I remember how good that felt. Now many people would think I wouldn't ever go near fire again, but the fact of the matter is that I never grew out of my love of fire. I just got much more careful with it. I became a firefighter mainly to hopefully be there for someone in need like the medics were for me, but I have to admit it s also for the opportunity to play with fire without getting in trouble. Where else can a person run into a burning building and crawl around in scorching heat, or get to see flames just free floating in mid air? As much fun as it is to put the wet stuff on the red stuff, it doesn't compare to the feeling I get from helping people.
Now before anyone suggest that I get counseling, please believe me when I say I would never intentionally set a fire so I could fight it, but I will be there every time the tones go off to do my part.
Chief, I doubt I will ever have the opporunity to meet you or run a call with you but I would be honored to do so. Your department is lucky to have someone like you! Continue the great work and stay safe Brother!
AYE! Tammy but you have. before you say what? If you have served your community with a heart of passion and desire then we have fought the fight together. If you support and work with your fellow responders then yes you have worked along side me. We love what we do and that passion is shared and expressed in what we do. So, it has been great working with you. Dont ever close your heart to share the love and passion of what you do. It is the real meaning of what we do an who we are.
Well then, Chief, I guess we have worked along side one another and I must say...I have had a blast!!! Thanks again and keep in touch.
Yup! I thought I recognized you. LOL!
when I was 5 I wanted to be a firefighter because I was so impressed at what they did. Back then blacks were not allowed in the fire department, so I guess that i'd have to quote Carl Brasher from "men of honor"..."because they said I could'nt have it". God Bless us that achieve our dreams, may he watch over us all as we protect lives and property

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