Firefighters life uinque lifestyle |

Firefighters life uinque lifestyle

Rick Chandler

It’s happened more than once – a group of firefighters will be sitting around the station watching television, and an emergency call will come in.

From “Suddenly, Susan” to sudden emergency; these guys will literally go from zero to 60 in about 3 1/2 minutes. But that’s the nature of the job when one chooses this line of work.

“You never know when that call is going to come, and it can be a jolt,” said battalion chief Jeff Michael, a captain with the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, which is based in Meyers. “You can be sitting there relaxing, and all of a sudden a call comes in, and your heartrate goes from normal to about 100 beats per minute,” he said. “It’s definitely a different lifestyle.”

It’s the ultimate on-call job, this firefighting business. One minute you’re cooking breakfast, and the next you may be out dousing a brush fire, or rescuing an injured hiker.

But what do fire fighters actually do when they’re not out fighting fires or saving lives? How do they spend their down time?

In reality, there isn’t a lot of down time for the typical fire fighter, especially in a place such as the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“We wear every hat you can imagine,” said Michael, a 20-year firefighting veteran. “In order to keep those hats, we have to constantly train. There’s so much to do and learn around here, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Indeed, the life of a typical fire fighter consists mostly of training and maintenance duties. The Lake Valley Fire Protection District personnel, for instance, must be fully trained in everything from operating the “Jaws of Life” to battling structure fires to going out on swiftwater rescue missions.

“We’re called the “go-to” guys,” Michael said. “We are the first responders to just about everything. As the first to arrive on the scene of an accident, we all have to have special training with a difibulator, for instance.

“Last year we had a call out at Strawberry at Lover’s Leap, where we had to get an injured hiker down off the rock. We have climbing ropes here; 20 years ago we didn’t do any of that.”

Said fire chief John Ceko: “What makes the Tahoe area unique (for fire fighters) is the dead and dying tree element. Add that to the impact of tourism here, and a fire can get out of hand very easily.”

A great deal of a firefighter’s down time is spent in training for all of these special skills. Michael, for instance, is trained to drive every vehicle at the district’s three stations.

The district has 16 full-time fire fighters which staff the three stations, plus a staff of 25 volunteers who are, for the most part, attempting to work their way up to full-time status. This staff works 24-hour shifts at the respective stations, most working one day on, one day off, as part of a 56-hour work week.

“The station is our home,” Michael said. “We live here 10 or 11 days a month, so its more than just a workplace to us. We eat here, sleep here, work out and train here.”

The Meyers station also serves as a community meeting place of sorts. The U.S. Forest Service (which shares the facility) has meetings there, as do college groups and the LVFPD board of supervisors. The district coordinates fire protection classes there.

And many times citizens just drop in to tour the facility.

“We are all part of the same community,” he said. “That’s the reason a lot of us are in this profession. It’s different from a place like San Francisco, where most of the fire fighters can’t afford to live in their own district. With us, we all live here. It’s our community, and we want to protect it.”

In addition to to training and education, there is plenty of maintenance work to go around. If something goes wrong mechanically with one of the engines, the fire fighters themselves have to fix it. They are responsible for everything, including changing light bulbs, mopping floors (on Wednesdays) and cleaning shower stalls (Thursdays).

The Meyers station has a laundry room, a large kitchen area, TV room, conference room, four bedrooms, two restroom areas with showers and a weight room.

“It’s important to stay in shape, and not just for the reasons you might imagine,” Michael said. “Getting up in the middle of the night to go out on an emergency, out of a deep sleep, can take its toll.”

What can also take its toll on a firefighter is the human suffering that is encountered on a consistent basis.

“It’s tough when you see someone hurt or dying, especially if its a child,” Michael said. “Most of us are at an age where we have kids ourselves, so emotionally it affects you.

“When you live and work in a community such as this, many times the people you encounter on an emergency are people you know. When you see people you know who have lost their lives or their homes or their loved ones, that can be difficult.”

The biggest enemy of firefighters, though, is the down time.

“One of the downsides of this job is the quietness and solitude,” Michael said. “We’re trained and ready to go, and naturally we want to use that training.”

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