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Some final thoughts from ‘Firefighter 3861’

By Monday, after Friday’s devastating fire at Salisbury Millwork, we had more than 300 condolences on our Web site ó one containing some justifiable profanity.
We had to remove it and I e-mailed the person who had posted it.
We’ve been talking through e-mail ever since. He doesn’t want me to use his real name, but suggested I call him Concerned Firefighter 3861.
He’s a part-timer, like Justin Monroe, but he doesn’t work in Rowan.
It’s obvious how deeply Monroe’s death and that of Victor Isler affected the rank-and-file firefighter.
He said I could use some of his comments because he wants people to know what it’s like. Here is an edited version:
– “You know when that fire pager goes off, we never know if we are coming back to the department. I have been on several calls that have almost taken my life, but yet I go right back to doing the same thing again. I guess it is the rush that I get but I am not sure. Losing Justin was like losing a part of my family. Everyday I shed tears thinking about the times that we joked around and hung out and what not. That boy was a person that you would love to have as a friend because he had a heart of a giant.”
– “A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to be a firefighter. However, I have told several of my friends about firefighting and they have joined different departments. Firefighters do not really get the respect they deserve. We are not on TV a lot unless there is a fire. … People have to understand, when we head out to a fire we are going to do it because we know danger is near. Our job is to serve and protect, just like the law. Losing a brother firefighter is something that no one can understand but firefighters themselves. … I am 26 and have been in the fire service since I was 16. … The most important thing I ever want to remember is the feeling that I saved a person’s life. Nothing can compare to that.
– “It is not a job to firefighters, it is a passion to most who serve their community. More younger people are joining because of the rush that comes with it, plus younger members are more highly able to get things done quicker than older firefighters. A quick response time is very important to every firefighter. When we join a department, we take an oath and we have to live up to it each day. However, when a firefighter dies, we take it to heart … we also have to keep our mind straight …
– “(I) was dealing with a bacon plant fire once and … fire shot out of the windows and doors. Knocked me and a few other firefighters back to the ground while attempting an interior attack. A few seconds later I got back up with the rest, and an explosion … sent a piece of concrete right into the right side of my helmet, knocking me out cold. My friends and I are dealing with this the best way that we can.
– “As far as facing a fire, it gives me a better idea on what we are dealing with, but you see, each call is always different. I can say one thing but another firefighter would tell you something different. Every firefighter has his own story; no two stories are the same. Might sound like it but they are not. Facing a fire takes a lot of nerve … However, when we are called in we know that we might have to be in the fire to get to a person or to get our job done. Firefighting is something that people should take really serious. I have said this before: You cannot always be a firefighter. Let me explain. Some people say that they can deal with the same stuff that we deal with, but when it comes down to it, they back off. Being a firefighter is like getting out of high school after walking across the stage. You are glad that you have passed the test, and with firefighters there are many tests that you have to take and also keep your certifications up.
– “When joining a department, they inform you about the risks and injuries that can occur. Some departments do a three-month probation period. Some do six months and some only do 30 days. … The more calls that you try to make while on probation, the better your outlook would be for getting accepted. … Once you have been taken in as a normal firefighter, you will be given a pager. That is when the real fun begins, but any firefighter will tell you that running red lights does not mean that you can speed like a fool … A dead firefighter is no good to a scene if he can’t get there.”
After Thursday’s funeral, my new friend had some fresh reflections:
– “At the funeral, some of the firefighters were crying and so was I. A young lady came up to me and gave me a hug and just stood there with me. Several other firefighters came up to me and also gave me a hug. The funeral was long but beautiful. After we were dismissed, I just slowly walked back to my truck and then stood there and looked at the flag and the last truck that he was on. Tears just started shedding down and there was nothing that I could do to stop it from happening. After all was done, we headed back to Central Department to get together and talk and what not. It was nice and then I got in my truck and left.”
Concerned Firefighter 3861 will hold these memories for a long time ó like many of us.
I hope he gets a full-time job with a department soon. It sounds like he has the heart to keep us safe.
– – –
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at 704-797-4252 or dp1@salisburypost.com.

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