Oct. 28 is National First Responders Day.
As a deputy fire chief with the Kern County Fire Department, I am proud of all members of my department, who put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect their fellow citizens. We pride ourselves on being the one call our citizens have to make to resolve their crisis. We are highly successful because we are well-trained, efficient and resourceful.
One thing that I have found is almost universal is that people who enter the emergency services professions do not consider it a job, but a calling. They consider their profession not “what they do” but “who they are.” They are helpful to their friends, neighbors, colleagues and members of their communities, whether on duty or off. You will find them founding, managing or assisting dozens of nonprofit organizations that make our community a better place to live. They volunteer thousands of hours every year to nonprofit groups, schools and community events.
Because firefighters are trained in so many disciplines, we also find ourselves as the “go-to” person in our families and neighborhoods for advice and assistance on fire safety, emergency medical care, emergency preparedness, building construction, vehicle maintenance and repair, local laws and ordinances, defensive driving skills, weather, power equipment use and how to feed hungry adults a great meal for $6 per person.
As we acknowledge the men and women who keep our communities safe, we must not only honor their efforts, but also their sacrifices. The physical and mental stress they endure during the course of their work will change them forever.
They will all have physical injuries and many memories of events that they will carry until their last day on earth. Visions of human beings mutilated by accidents. The sound of a mother’s screams when told that her child is dead. The fear and adrenaline they feel when a house is reported on fire with people trapped inside and hoping they will get there in time. The victims of senseless violence they work frantically to save, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Our profession is rapidly changing, and the statistics are sobering. We struggle with an increasing number of calls for service. We are working more shifts, with more exposure to traumatic events. Fatigue is constant. Modern structures are burning much faster and releasing deadlier byproducts. Our cancer rates are on the rise. Fire season in California is no longer a “season,” but year-round. Our wildfires are larger and more destructive, causing more deaths. We take every lost life personally. Our Post Traumatic Stress Injury rates are growing. In 2017, our number of suicides exceeded line of duty deaths. We must find solutions to these problems.
Despite these challenges, as firefighters, we have sworn an oath to protect our fellow citizens. We will continue to do so to the best of our ability. We are honored to do our jobs and serve our communities. As you go about your day, if you happen to meet any firefighters, please say hi and maybe ask them a question about their jobs — they love to share.
Dean Boller is deputy fire chief of the Kern County Fire Department.