By Brendan Milewski
Special to CNN
Editor’s note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle — injury, illness or other hardship — they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we introduce you to Brendan Milewski, who bravely served in the Detroit Fire Department for over a decade before one act of arson ended his career and changed his life forever.
When people find out you’re a firefighter, the first question they ask is: “What made you join the fire service?”
This is typically followed by: “My dad, grandpa, or uncle was on the job.”
That wasn’t the case for me. Instead, interest in a career in public safety came in waves throughout my adolescence. I assure you, I am a first and last generation firefighter.
It first started at age 13, when I was spending the night at a friend’s house in the neighborhood where I grew up. After seeing an ambulance race down the street, we went outside to find the house two doors down on fire. The closest fire company hadn’t arrived yet.
I had a front-row seat to the entire scene. I heard the sirens, smelled the smoke, saw the rigs arrive, and watched as these courageous men entered the house and pulled three people out of the fire.
By Fernanda Santos
For The New York Times
PRESCOTT, Ariz. — The men cluster in a tight pack, identities obscured by fire-resistant Nomex clothes, each one anonymous except for the color of his helmet: red for corrections officers, blue and yellow for inmates.
When the air was hot and the woods were parched last summer, the peak of the wildfire season in the West, these trained wilderness firefighters fought 13 forest fires in Arizona, including the one in June that half-destroyed the nearby village of Yarnell and killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team. On a crisp morning this fall, they were using chain saws and pulaskis — a firefighting tool that combines an ax and an adz — to chop overgrown bushes in a private development here, offering a measure of fire prevention for houses built in the wild.
Their home base is the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, but when asked where they are from, the reply is simply “Buckeye,” the name of the town where the prison is located. If there are other questions, they call it a “gated community” and leave it at that.
“That we’re inmates is the last thing on anybody’s mind,” said John Chleboun, 33, who has been serving time for burglary at the Lewis complex and is entering his second year with the crew.
By Laura Kebede
For the Richmond Times-Dispatch
It took a “bad call” — when a 13-year-old on a bicycle was fatally struck by a car on a winding road in Sandston — for Henrico County firefighter and EMT Troy Cummings to realize the importance of mental health services available to fire department personnel.
Cummings and several other first responders on the scene had children about that age. Amid the rush of emotions, it took him 20 minutes longer than usual to fill out the report at the hospital.
When the unit returned to the station, licensed clinical social worker Steve Bard was waiting for their debriefing. Anytime there’s a death involving children on a Henrico Division of Fire call, a mental health liaison or chaplain becomes the “911 for 911,” chaplain Mike Woods said.
By Brian Merony
For Firefighter Nation
As the world around us changes, so does the fire service. Some changes over the past 50 years have been positive … and some negative. But from department to department, one thing is always the same: A firefighter will always be a firefighter, no matter how different the world around them becomes. With change comes the need for strong leadership, and I can’t stress enough how important it is for department leadership to recognize when changes need to be made, and for all department members to be willing to accept new things. I know this can be hard to accept at times, especially when we’re affected directly, but acceptance will enable the fire service to continue to function and provide protection to those who live in and visit our jurisdictions. With that in mind, let’s review a few of the major changes that have affected a large portion the fire service nationwide.
For most of us, the number of fires we respond to is down. Better building codes, fire protection systems and fire prevention education have all contributed to this decrease. These changes have also greatly decreased the number of lives lost because of fire—a positive change of which everyone in the fire service can be proud. The only negative aspect about having fewer fires is justifying a need for fire department staffing and apparatus to remain as robust as they have for the past years.
Fewer fire responses have led to several other changes that now drive the modern fire service. Across the U.S. we see more and more fire departments changing their names from the traditional “Fire Department” to other titles, such as “Fire Rescue,” “Fire/EMS” or “Emergency Services.” For example, the Dallas Fire Department changed its name a few years ago to Dallas Fire Rescue. You wouldn’t think changing the name would make that big of a difference, but it does. This change lets the citizens of Dallas know that the fire department doesn’t just fight fire but that it also responds to calls that may involve any type of rescue. Membership didn’t take this change well, at first, because of long-standing traditions, but now its membership doesn’t think twice about the name, and the public has a better understanding of the jobs to which Dallas firefighters responds.
By Jim Spell
For Fire Chief
Fire departments are looking for three things when they interview a candidate for promotion: qualifications for the position, general fitness related to job tasks, and general appearance and relative impression left on the selection committee. The impressions in these areas can mean the difference between success and failure — especially when the selection is close.
Your character is reflected in how well you are groomed and the manners with which you conduct yourself. Next, there is the ease with which you move around the room and make eye contact with each member of the committee. Now all that’s left is a firm handshake and friendly smile to get you to your seat for the actual interview.
As you begin to discuss your life and answer questions, traits like self-expression, personality and maturity begin to reveal themselves. Are you confident in your presentation or just verbose? Do you have a sense of self-awareness that promotes keen judgments and good decision-making, or are you full of reluctant behaviors resulting in a vague sense of who you are? You reveal a great deal in these 20 minutes, perhaps more than at any other time in your life.
Experienced firefighters take longer to make decisions under stress than novice firefighters, according to research conducted at Iowa State University. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
After conducting dozens of virtual reality trials in which real firefighters with varying levels of experience responded to fire simulations, experts at Iowa State said this week that seasoned firefighters took a more analytical approach than their less experienced colleagues when making decisions.
“The experienced firefighters put a heavier emphasis on enhancing their situational awareness and creating a mental map for themselves,” said Nir Keren, an associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering.
Keren said experienced firefighters are more likely to make good decisions when faced with a crisis, even if it takes them longer to decide on a course of action.
By JACK HEALY and IAN LOVETT
For The New York Times
“I’m going down to Yarnell for a fire that’s threatening homes. I think I will be down there for a while on this one.”
It was 6:24 on Sunday morning, Andrew Ashcraft writing to his wife, Juliann. He was 29, a firefighter, a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew here, and he died alongside 18 of his teammates later in the day.
“Have fun,” Juliann replied. “We’ll miss you.”
“I miss you guys already,” Mr. Ashcraft wrote, not just to his wife, but to their four children, ages 1, 2, 4 and 6. Then, in capital letters: “I LOVE YOU JULIANN.”
The couple exchanged text messages intermittently throughout the day, mundane details of life on and off the job: Ms. Ashcraft taking the kids swimming, Mr. Ashcraft working in the brush in searing heat, praying for rain in the mountains around the old gold-mining town of Yarnell. At 2:30 p.m., he sent a photograph of the fire, gray smoke rising from the burning woods. At 4:08 p.m., Ms. Ashcraft asked if he would be staying in Yarnell for the night. She never heard back.
By Stephen Thompson
For The Tampa Tribune
At 36, Tom Kras, a firefighter with St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue, has already had two knee surgeries. After the second surgery, he was on light duty for several months.
Kras wondered what would happen to him if he could no longer carry people down ladders or cut a car open to pull out an injured passenger.
That’s when he decided to make himself more marketable and become a nurse.
“I knew I never wanted to leave the fire department at this age to be a nurse,” said Kras. “It was more of a backup plan.”
Kras is one of a small, but growing, number of firefighters who are juggling their already-bizarre schedules to become registered nurses. It’s a shift happening in fire departments throughout the region.
Like Kras, many aren’t going to nursing school to change careers. In fact, many look at the added training as a way to improve their performance as paramedics. Their nursing training also helps them act with their patients’ longer-term needs in mind, rather than just patching them up well enough so they’re still alive when they reach the hospital.
But nursing is a good option for firefighters who are too old to run calls anymore, and it’s a better second job than what many firefighters do when they’re not at the fire station – jobs such as construction, landscaping, or air-conditioning repair, all of which can be nearly as hard on firefighters’ knees and backs as responding to fires and car wrecks.
By Janelle Foskett
From the February 2013 issue of FireRescue
Higher education is fast becoming a major trend in the fire service, with many firefighters seeking advanced learning opportunities to enhance their technical and leadership skills. And with more and more positions actually requiring specific degrees, many firefighters are choosing to revisit the world of education to get a leg up in the promotional process.
Although the benefits of obtaining a higher degree may seem obvious, making the decision to return to school isn’t always an easy one, particularly after a long absence. Key questions will naturally come to mind: How will I balance school with my work and family commitments? Will I be able to navigate an increasingly Internet-based educational system? Is it worth the time?
Fortunately, a group of fire service professionals who have themselves taken this leap have agreed to discuss their experiences to help illustrate the realities of going back to school—the good, the bad and the rewarding.
What’s the Motive?
Although there are numerous reasons to return to school, for many, it comes down to one simple goal: career advancement. Manuel Hoskins, fire chief for the City of Monroe, Mich., obtained his bachelor’s degree in general studies and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Siena Heights University. “I wanted to place myself in the best possible position for advancement and to never give anyone the ability to say I’m not qualified,” he says.
Read the full article here.
By David Templeton
For the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Settling in to sleep in Engine House 17 in Homewood, Ed Farley curls up with his two-way radio to catch every fire, medical or accident call citywide throughout the night despite a firefighter at the front desk and an alarm system that sounds whenever his unit must respond.
“I don’t want to miss a run,” said Capt. Farley, 51, of Beechview. “I’m a firefighter. That’s what they pay me for.”
Because of his vigilance, Capt. Farley doesn’t sleep soundly, if at all, during his 24-hour and oftentimes 36-hour shift. When the alarm does sound, firefighters awaken wide-eyed with a surge of adrenalin and flash of stress hormones. Energy levels spike. The heart beat hammers. The mind whirls with anticipation. And what science now reports, such scenarios can affect health if the person has trouble returning to calmness.
“I have headaches and fluctuations in weight. On a stressful day I need to unwind,” Capt. Farley said. “This is a stressful job. People’s lives depend on us. A lot of times it’s unknown what we’re walking into.”
Acute stress occurs suddenly and is unanticipated. The alarm, then the dash to the truck, followed by the high-speed rush to the fire, accident or medical call, with additional stress of entering burning buildings, saving lives by risking one’s own and witnessing destruction — they all can exact a toll on health.
Firefighting stress prompted Pittsburgh Firefighters Local No. 1 to enlist the help of Bruce S. Rabin, the University of Pittsburgh immunologist and stress-management expert often known by the misnomer, “Dr. Stress.” He’s been conducting two-hour sessions with the city’s 570 firefighters in its 28 firehouses to instill skills to help them avoid the health effects of stress.
Read the full article here.