I remember sitting in our living room and telling my wife I wanted to join the Fire Department. I’d seen the look she gave me before. Married guys know exactly what I’m talking about. I told her “I like helping people, and it sounds like fun.” She had reservations, but after a few days and more conversation she agreed that I should apply. A few weeks went by and eventually I got a call from the chief to schedule an interview. I was told to be at the station at 7:00 PM and I would sit down with a few of the officers and discuss the position. To say I was excited was an understatement. After the interview and discussion with the Chief I accepted an offer to join. After the discussions with the chief and other officers I thought that I knew what I was getting into, but there are so many things that no one told me.
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NO ONE TOLD ME that when I walked through that station door and saw those huge intimidating trucks and smelling that strange aroma of wet fire hose it would become a part of me in such a short amount of time. I never participated in high school team sports; it didn’t interest me. I was content to hang out with friends or spend time outdoors hunting; however, shortly after joining, something inside me switched. I felt a part of a team. These strangers that I had only known for a few short weeks made me apart of them. They spent their free time showing me how to don my gear, where tools and equipment were located on the trucks, and how the department operated. I had long time company officers and members just off probation take me aside and mentor me. They answered my endless number of questions, taught me about the command structure, and were patient with me during training sessions. They took notice of my enthusiasm and steered me away from trouble, but most of all they made me free welcome. Even as a new member that had no formal training I never felt as a second-class member. It is safe to say that I had become a part of the family. While I am only 3 years into this challenge, I try to be approachable. I want new members to feel comfortable coming to me with questions or concerns. We have a duty to train and mentor the newer firefighters so the department continues to grow and develop into a first-class organization.
NO ONE TOLD ME that when I joined the department my family also joined the department. I may have been naïve about the challenge I was about to undertake, but I thought I was the only member in my home that was going to spend time at the fire station. It became apparent very quickly that firefighters and their families spent time outside of the station together. They went out for dinner, had movie night at the station, celebrated birthdays together, and helped each other when needed. In a very short time my wife and I were invited into these activities. I think getting to know the other members and their families help put my wife’s mind at ease. It helped her feel more comfortable when I left to go to someone’s emergency. She developed confidence in the rest of the department and gained a support group in their families. Unless you are a part of emergency services no one understands what, it’s like to have the pager go off at 1:00 am for a structure fire or see a Facebook post about a bad MVA and know your loved one is involved, but after getting to know the other families she knows she isn’t alone. She knows she isn’t the only one tossing and turning waiting for her firefighter to return from a serious call. She has new friends that appreciate the time the fire department requires. She has people that understand what it’s like to be stranded at the gym because your husband’s pager went off. While she is my support network, she also knows that she has a support group as well. I feel it’s important for fire departments to include the whole family not just the responder. Without the support of the family most wouldn’t or couldn’t volunteer.
NO ONE TOLD ME that I would enjoy EMS as much as I do. When I spoke with the Chief about joining, the topic of EMS came up. I was apprehensive about being a first responder. I envisioned myself fighting fire and cutting cars apart; never did I think about band aids and blood pressure. It became obvious that if I wanted to be a member and be involved I needed to become an EMR. I went through the training, passed the national registry and started running medical calls. I quickly realized how much I enjoyed it. It is a completely different feeling helping someone in this way. I tell people that fighting fire is a huge rush, indescribable, unless you can experience it firsthand, but providing medical care gives me an immediate sense of satisfaction. People are generally grateful when you arrive at a medical call. Sometimes the reason they call isn’t what you or I consider a true emergency, but to them on that day it’s their emergency. Occasionally a reassuring voice or a hand to hold is all that’s needed, but those are the times when we have the most impact on people’s lives. We have a 50+ year member on my department who has had a profound impact on many of us, he has a saying, “compassion never goes out of style.” That simple saying is something I try to keep in mind every time I go to a medical call. I have tried to impress my feelings on the newer members that come into the department, letting them know that very few calls have the immediate impact on people’s lives that a medical call does.
NO ONE TOLD ME that the more I train the more I realize I need to train. I will admit that when I started I was eager to finish my training so I could just run calls. It didn’t take long to realize that the required training was the bare minimum. I learned right away that being certified doesn’t make you qualified. I also realized the value of attending classes/seminars put on by outside groups or agencies. The knowledge that these experienced instructors bring to these opportunities is mind blowing. I’ve had instructors that were involved in the events of 9/11/01, presenters who are the expert on their field, and trainers who were so passionate about the fire service you couldn’t help but be inspired. I personally try to attend 2 to 3 extra conferences or seminars each year, not only do these skills make me a better firefighter but I also network with other firefighters. Talking shop with other firefighters, you learn about new techniques, tools or even additional class opportunities. Attending these opportunities not only made me a stronger firefighter but also help the entire department by putting more knowledge tools in the toolbox. The adage that “irons sharpen iron” is very true in the fire service.
There are so many things that no one told me. I think it’s important to pass the things I have learned by experience onto the members who come after me. I try to be a mentor to the new members the way I was mentored. Hopefully by doing this, I make my department better and the brotherhood as a whole, stronger.
FF/EMR Travis Proksch has been in the fire service for three year and currently serves with the Shelby Fire Department in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Travis is passion about the fire service and helping his community. He has been married to his wife Kelly for eighteen years and has two sons, Tyler and Collin.