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A fiery passion for saving lives: A day in the life of a firefighter

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For firefighters, answering emergencies is their passion.

“So generally the bell would go off here, we’ll go and write down the location of the call and then figure what it is, where we got to go and all that stuff,” Derek Bacon, a firefighter, said. “That determines what trucks we take here and we get out gear on if we need it.”

Bacon and his colleague Stephen Walters are firefighters with the West Elmira Fire Department. The two and others just like them go into emergencies to put their lives on the line for others.

“Some people are thinking to themselves, ‘why the heck would you want to run into a burning building?’ It’s like us, we think about cops, why the heck would you want to run around with other people shooting at you?”

There may be some action and danger in this job, but they said the reality is not like what is portrayed on television shows like Chicago Fire.

“It’s not anything like that. it’s a lot of teamwork,” Walters said. “Teamwork is a huge thing with the firefighters. There’s no ‘I’ in team.”

Unfortunately, the size of that team is shrinking. Not just in West Elmira, but all across New York, and the nation.

“When you have a big family, multiple jobs, and your working 60, 70 hours a week,” Walters explained, “and you have baseball practice, soccer, you don’t have enough time to volunteer.”

“Also the training, the training is very extensive,” Bacon said. “It’s 109 hours to get your firefighter-one certification. It’s pretty extensive and people don’t have the time to do that.”

Their day starts in the department’s office. They discuss the calls they answered the day before and talk about what needs to be done the day of.  

There’s a computer where they log emergency call. There are also scanners. They keep an ear out for emergencies so they will be ready to answer when emergency strikes.

When an emergency does strike, they spring into action. They have only two minutes to put on their gear: The pants, coat, gloves, and a headpiece.

All this protects them from fires and other emergencies. They also cannot forget their air tank and tools. 

They get no paycheck or benefits on the job, but it doesn’t matter to them. 

“Why should people join this profession? So that they can serve their community,” Bacon said. “Do something good for the people that are here. That’s what we strive to do.”

“Just being able to help your community out is by far none the greatest pleasure you can ever have,” Walters continued the thought, “is when someone comes up to say thank you, is one of the best things that could ever happen.”

April 27-28 is Recruit N.Y. Weekend and volunteer fire departments all across New York will be opening their doors to everyone hoping new members will join.

Check in with your local fire department to see if you have what it takes.

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