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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I'd love to collect all of your stories at www.runtothecurb.com.

Who knows, maybe your story will end up in the published book of the same name.

Please send your stories and photos to tiger@tigerschmittendorf.com .

PS - Check out this collection of great stories at: http://firecritic.com/2010/03/first-due-blog-carnival-episode-1-i-a...

Talk to you tonight.
Because its the best job in the world!!!!!
Honestly, I am a Third Generation firefighter. My Grandfather was a Firefighter and My Father was a Firefighter.
I can remember when My dad would come home off of his tour and Myself and My brother would run and hug him.
I could always remember how his uniform smelled and as I got older could tell which apparatus he was on by the smell of the uniform. I could remember the distinct smell when he was on the Life Squad. And the slight tinge of smoke when he was on the Engine. Ma used to take us up to the station that dad worked at. And I remember Myself and My little Brother getting passed around from lap to lap and by the time Ma got us wrangled in our pockets were full of candy and loose change and dollar bills and such. Most children say they have only one father. if You ask My Brother and I we had several. I am a Firefighter because I love the smell of Diesel. I love the Brotherhood. I love that I get to help people and I love that My Brother and I carry a legacy that is unique and rich with history. Someday I hope that if I have a son that he is something better, Like a Doctor or something.. but.. if he should get lost along the way to Med school It would not hurt Me a bit if He picks up a hose and gets to work.
Eager to have you join us tonight, if available. We'd like to hear more on Run to the Curb....
Because i have always liked to help people and do nice things for people...well it started off like this my dad has been on the fire dept for 16 years.When i was little i went with him to almost every call they had.Went to the station every tuesday night with him..i use to roll up hoses,help with about anything..Then oneday i looked at my dad and said dad you know what i want to be like you when i grow up.. he said thats good son that you know what you want to do when you grow up..if thats what you want to do when you grow up im behind you 100%..i said thanks dad...Then when i truned 15 years old i went up to the station and asked how old you had to be..they said 18....well then that made me sad cause i was only 15..then the cheif decided to start a jr program for ages 16-17..so when i truned 16 i went back and asked if i could join..they said fill out a applcation..so i filled it out..then like a few days later they said yes..i was like cool..i get to help people and put out fires like my dad does..well to make a long storie im 18 now and still on the fire dept and its something i love to do.My hole family is on the fire dept.me,my brother,mom,dad...its good to be working with your family in the fire service cause you know they always have your back...well thats why i always wanted to be a fire fighter...Thanks for reading....have a blessed day..God bless you...
Are you me?
Same here, I have to say ditto to your post.
When and why did you finally join?
I really enjoy helping people, I do not do it for praise, glory, or even a thank you.... I do it for self gratification, knowing I could help some one in need is enough for me. I would like to end this with a few things....

Unsung Heros

The hours are hard and so is the job,
But I'd give it all so you wont sob.
To save your house, your life, your children,
I'll risk it all to enter the building.
Each day I leave my wife and child
To respond to the number that you dialed,
But if I go and do not live,
Please remember all we give.

Matt Snnokrak
FF/EMT, Homewood Fire Dept
Homewood IL
Gee, I guess it's just not acceptable to say that I do this because it's my job.
I guess it has to be some kind of "heavenly calling". sheesh
Hay Jack/Ass, that is my reason.... If you do not like it go F*@^ a duck. I am sick of your smart ass comments trying to cut me down because you think you are the greatest thing on earth. You always screw up a discussions with your BS comments. Go back to watching porn and jerking off (if you can find you pecker) and leave me the hell alone!!!!
For some reason you seem to have to get personal, why is that? Are you that insecure that you need to attack someone else to make yourself feel better? It's not going to work, but go ahead and go for it, what ever makes you feel better.
Like said before, I'm a second generation firefighter. I couldn't imagine doing any other job in the world. I just never grew out of my childhood dream. I remember grabbing old gear my dad brought home, and grabbing chairs and stuff from around the house and making my own fire truck out in front of my parents house. I remember going to the fire house and climbing on the trucks. It was mentioned before I have so many people that I consider moms, dads, and grandparents because of this job, and some of the closest friends I'll ever have because of this job. Just living my childhood dream and doing what I love is why I became a firefighter. I guess helping people in the process doesn't hurt either.
I said my part and every time I do you feel the need to run your mouth and cut it down.... Calling me insecure is a bit hypocritical of you is it not? I do not say anything to you until you decide you want to come up with some smart ass remark belittling every thing I say. So may be I should ask you if it makes you feel better to attack some one else? Do you have some deep physiological issues that make it necessary to do this? If so then I will ignore it. Are you a pathological egotist ? Because to me it seems you have little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than your own. I really believe you are a megalomaniac. So with that being said I will leave you be to your own egocentric thoughts and ignore any further comments from you.

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