The Firefighter’s Calling
It’s like clockwork. Several times a day, almost every day, Campbell County Firefighters hear the warning tones fill the empty hallways of Fire Station 1, shattering the still silence and filling their veins with adrenaline.
Always and without fail, they rush to their assigned fire engine, strap on 50 pounds of protective gear, and drive down the road with screaming sirens, knowing full well that they might never return.
Could this be the call that an untamable fire claims their lives? Will a roof give out, causing them to fall several stories to their deaths? When they walked out the door for their shift that morning or evening, was it the last time they would ever hug their kids or kiss their wives goodbye?
It matters not. When the alarm calls and their beepers sound off, someone, somewhere, is in need of saving. And Campbell County
Firefighters will be there to see them home, safe and sound.
For Firefighters Steven Clemetson, Milo Peterson, and Cole Thomas, this is their life, each and every day.
“You hear the tones go off, and it’s instinctive,” Steven said. “It’s like it’s in our DNA to go help and do what we can.”
Regardless if someone slips and falls, are trapped in a raging inferno, or is in danger of being swept down a raging river, firefighters will be there, added Milo.
“When they call for help, we go,” he stated simply.
Volunteer to career
Most firefighters in the Campbell County Fire Department started out the same, as volunteers, Milo said.
Steven was once a coal miner at NARM as well as a volunteer fire fighter. He would work grueling shifts, day and night, at the mine and would come home, only to run out the door when the fire beeper on his belt went off.
It was one of these instances that showed him firefighting could be much more than just an on the side job, it could be a rewarding and fulfilling way of life.
One night, Steven was lying down at home when his wife walked in and tossed his pager at him. A crude oil tanker had rolled over on U.S. Highway 450 and, just to see what that side of the job looked like, he decided to tag along and help where he could.
“It wasn’t long. I fell in love pretty quick,” said Steven.
He eventually, with his wife’s support, left his job at NARM to try and pursue a career as a firefighter.
Like Milo and Cole, Steven attended the fire academy, a multi-week course designed to prepare career firefighters for everything they could experience on the job. Emergency medical procedures, rappelling, patient transport, and fire suppression, they learned it all.
“It was worth it, for sure,” Steven said.
Neither Milo, Steven, nor Cole can imagine a career more rewarding than firefighting.
For Milo, it’s the support and trust that the community has in its firefighters that does it.
“The public is pretty supportive of us,” he said. When he pulls someone out of the car one day, and they return the next to say thank-you and take his picture, it’s the best reward for a job well done.
“It’s pretty rewarding to get to help people,” said Milo.
“You get into this line of work for a reason,” Steven added. “It’s a calling.”
With a job as dangerous and demanding as firefighting, it’s important for firefighters to maintain balance between their personal and professional lives.
“You’ve got to spend your time at home,” Milo said.
Steven said that he relies on the support and understanding of his wife, who knows full well that he could come home one day after a 48-hour shift and run back out the door to put out a structure fire.
“It’s definitely a time commitment being a firefighter,” he said. “Having a good spouse and a good family, it helps keep you in check.”
As firefighters, there are times where Cole, Steven, and Milo will see or experience things that they wish they hadn’t. Sometimes, there will be people that firefighters, despite doing everything in their power, could not save.
“We’re all in that situation every day, where we encounter stuff like that,” said Milo, who’s been doing the job far longer than Cole and Steve.
And it is times like that where seeing the job’s reward seems impossible.
“Sometimes you get to see things you don’t want to, but that’s just part of the job,” Milo said.
But, when these things happen, it is important for firefighters to seek help to overcome adverse feelings.
“That’s the main thing,” Milo said. “You’ve got to deal with it, rather than bottling it up.”
Sometimes, it’s being home with family that does the trick. Other times it’s seeking professional counseling or talking with their fellow firefighters.
If they let it, the job can destroy a firefighter’s life at home.
“You’ve just have to kind of watch it, like a system of checks and balances.” Milo explained.
But no matter the burden, no matter the cost, residents of Campbell County can rest assured that, should they call, firefighters will answer.