Thursday, November 17, 2016

Serving as a first generation firefighter

Some firefighters come from a family of firefighters while others like me are the first in their family to join the fire service.

My family said little when I told them I decided to become a volunteer firefighter. I imagined that they heard me talk about helping others, but that they also interpreted my aspiration as, “I’d risk my life to run into burning buildings.” Wanting to experience a new physical challenge, I found my calling in the fire service. I hoped my family would be supportive of my decision, despite if they understood it.

My fire company family supported us while we attended fire school at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center. They wanted to see us succeed and we can apply on scene what we learned. The officers and firefighters asked about our progress in school. When asked, they helped us review skills by practicing how to do certain tasks, such as opening a hydrant to establish a water supply, performing a search and rescue, and how to operate our SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus).

Having the support of fellow firefighters came as no surprise. They understand because they live it. I also wanted my family to show support of my new-found passion, even when that’s not easy for them. Just like any family, they are afraid that we could get hurt or worse.
 
Ginger Rae Dunbar serves as a first generation firefighter. 

A Glen Moore Fire Company firefighter put that feeling into words when I interviewed him for a news story about his fire company celebrating its 100th year in service. I asked why he became a volunteer. He said there was something about it that he always wanted to be a firefighter. He mentioned that as a first generation firefighter, his family doesn’t always understand volunteering or his decision.

“I don’t expect them to understand,” he said. “I just hope they can accept it.”

As first generation firefighter myself, I knew that feeling. The Glen Moore firefighters said that families don’t understand getting out of bed at 2 a.m. to respond to a car accident. Sometimes families do not understand why we leave home to respond, even if it means leaving the dinner table. We serve alongside our brothers and sisters to help others in their time of need.

My family understands the dangers that firefighters face and they urge me to be careful. One of my sisters and her husband told me to make sure I protect myself by wearing SCBA at a fire. I assured them I would. We wear our airpacks on numerous other calls too. I told them that the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center fire school instructors emphasized wearing our gear properly for our protection. My family said the same, but out of worry.

The instructors often encouraged us to check our partners and crew members to ensure everyone had their gear on properly, including that no skin would be exposed in a fire. We learned good habits in school that became instilled in us. My family was happy to hear that.

My sister and her husband later said to me, “be careful and wear your gear properly.” I was awestruck. Their simple request, the same advice from the instructors, proved to me they accepted my decision to serve as a firefighter. Whether they understand it or not no longer seemed to matter. Having your family’s support makes it easier to serve so I hope to gain that more overtime.

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