When tackling their crime assignments, my students quickly realized that crime stories weren’t limited to covering homicides or other violent crime. Often, a great story is about the first responders themselves. This student leveraged a relative’s connection into securing interviews with longtime firefighters.
By Marissa Perry
SAN RAMON – Individuals who risk their lives in the line of duty are commonly known to the public as heroes. To be sure, the firemen and women of the East County and surrounding neighborhoods do not consider themselves heroes but everyday citizens. They see themselves the same as they do the dentist next to them at the supermarket. The only difference is, they put their lives on the line to keep their communities safe.
The firefighters of San Ramon not only have years of experience but they love their jobs as well. Paul Taylor, who has been a fireman for over 30 years, says, “I was not cut out to sit behind a desk all day. The fact that I get to help others is another perk of the job.” He explains what a day in the life of fireman can be like, and he says that every day is a different experience. “The firehouse is a home away from home and a second family. We all start our day by getting information from our rollover crew. They give us all the information of what happened in the last 48 hours.”
Typically, firefighters work 48-hour shifts.
“Usually after we receive this information from the rollover crew, we all check our equipment and make sure that it is ready for a call,” Taylor says. “Our captain checks the schedule for our next 48 hours. This can include maintenance, training, building inspections, cooking and even studying for promotional exams. It can take several days to complete simple tasks such as these, due to interruptions. Our calls can range from an elderly person and placing them back into bed after they have fallen, or a raging fire in the middle of the night.”
Chris Harder has been a fireman for over 26 years. “The line of fire chose me,” he says. “I started out as a volunteer firefighter and then from the first call, I realized that this was my dream job.”
Fighting fires is not what it may appear to be in the movies, but the job can be very rewarding. Harder says that the most fulfilling part of being a fireman is different for every firefighter. For him though, “When I know deep down that I have been trained to the fullest and gained exceptional knowledge and skills, and deliver the best service to citizens. To know that I made a difference in someone’s life. I can see the most bizarre incidents and there is always something that trumps it.”
Though San Ramon may not be as big a city as say, San Francisco, the firefighters treat their community as one big family. Taylor adds, “The most fulfilling part of the job is helping others in need. It does not matter who they are, what they believe in, rich or poor. In that moment, we are all equal to one another. We see people at their absolute worst, and we do what we can to make the situation better for them. It has been a profession I am proud to be a part of.”
When a call comes in at the firehouse, a wide range of emotions enter a firefighter’s thoughts. What is the emergency? Where are we going? What kind of equipment? Who is in danger? The questions could be endless, but their duty is to help those in need.
“We go from joking to complete business mode when a call comes in,” Taylor says. “Everyone has one thing in mind and that is to save whoever needs saving.”
Harder, who works with Taylor, says, “The day of a fireman starts before we even arrive at the station. We must consider the weather, the day of the week. We do everything from equipment checks to Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus checks. Despite all of this and the calls, we will somehow find the time to get groceries.”
Many men and women aspire to be firefighters in the future. Whether for San Ramon, or any other city they choose, being a firefighter is very rewarding. Taylor adds, “Work hard and never give up and always work harder than the person next to you. Do not expect the fire service to come to you. You need to work hard and earn it. In the end, it is a rewarding career. I would not change my choice if I could.”
Every firefighter will have advice, but it is up to each individual to make the ultimate decision.
Harder says, “For those who want to be a fireman, spend time at the firehouse and ask questions. Join the academy and work on the ambulance and gain experience as an EMT.”
EMT stands for Emergency Medical Technician. Starting off as an EMT is a good start to work your way into a fire department.
The life of a firefighter may be a difficult one, and they may see sights that they do not want to see, but in the end, the city of San Ramon has people who love their city and who will do anything they can to protect citizens.