Just the other night, my husband and I were getting dinner ready in the kitchen and the 5 o’clock news broadcast was starting. Our five year old boys were within earshot when the reporter recognized that, “…today is the one year anniversary of a basement fire in Boston that killed two firefighters.” Immediately, our eyes locked and I quickly shuffled into the living room to change the channel while my husband, a 17 year veteran of the fire service, tried to distract the kids. We both paused for a moment in anticipation of the twenty questions that would surely follow. I was worried that our children had heard too much and their little minds were going to race with all kinds of possibilities. I was hoping they didn’t connect the dots that being a firefighter is dangerous, even deadly, and their daddy was at risk. Our kids are old enough to pick up on our moods, read our facial expressions, and hear the uncertainty in our voices so I was just hoping we didn’t tip them off.
Don’t get me wrong: Our boys are well aware that their daddy is a firefighter. In fact, they have visited the fire station more than most people will in an entire lifetime. They have climbed on every piece of equipment, hit the lights and sirens, and donned all the gear. They like to find their daddy’s locker in the equipment room and see their pictures hanging inside the door. And yet, despite all of the trips to HQ, it dawned on me that they actually don’t really know what he does. See, every time they see their daddy at work he is at the fire station, relaxed, and hanging with his group—a dozen friendly faces that know them well. They watch them wash the trucks, restock supplies, fix equipment, write reports, and have dinner together. They see Daddy looking sharp in his uniform and they cover his badge with their fingerprints.
What they see at the station is pretty consistent with the books they have read, too. All of their stories depict happy firefighters together at the firehouse or rushing to get someone’s kitty out of a tree. I’m pretty sure when they think about their daddy at work, they remember our many fun visits and think of him at the station.
"They have no idea how his pulse thumps on the side of his head when he makes life-or-death decisions. They have never seen him crawl on his hands and knees into a burning building or heard his air pack beep to beg for more air. They haven’t seen the black soot stains on his pillowcase and they don’t smell the smoke ooze from his pores for days after a fire. They don’t notice the dark circles under his eyes when he walks in the door after his shift."
Despite their familiarity with the fire department, I’m pretty sure they have no concept of what his job entails, or the inherent risks. They can’t feel his heart race when the tones blare at 3am or even begin to imagine the tension, the stress, or the chaos of an incident. In fact, I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t even recognize their own father’s voice over the radio taking command of a scene. They have no idea how his pulse thumps on the side of his head when he makes life-or-death decisions. They have never seen him crawl on his hands and knees into a burning building or heard his air pack beep to beg for more air. They haven’t seen the black soot stains on his pillowcase and they don’t smell the smoke ooze from his pores for days after a fire. They don’t notice the dark circles under his eyes when he walks in the door after his shift. All they see is their daddy, the friendly firefighter, and all they want to know is if he will play ball with them the minute he walks in the door.
For now, ignorance is bliss. I’m glad that they don’t understand all the risks, sacrifices, and hazards associated with this job. I’m glad they don’t spend any time worrying about their daddy when he goes to work. They just know that he is a firefighter and he helps people when they need it. They aren’t ready to know about all the complexities of his job or the dangers involved. However, some day, when they are old enough to understand, I hope they can appreciate his hard work, long hours, and unwavering dedication to this profession. I hope they can recognize all the risks that he took to pursue a career that he loves and provide for his family. There are certainly easier ways to earn a buck but he chose the fire service. I want them to know that their birthday parties, hockey equipment, Christmas presents, and summer vacations were paid for one shift at a time.
My hope for our children is that someday they will find a career that is as fulfilling, rewarding, challenging, and exciting as the fire service has been for their daddy. So far, being a ninja, an astronaut, and a race car driver have topped the list. Looks like adventure runs in the family…
I feel compelled to write about the emergency services field because, truthfully; I find it fascinating. Admittedly, I wouldn’t cut it for even a day but I find it intriguing to watch from the sidelines. I’m always, always amazed at what I learn and the kind of person it takes to do this job. As a former high school guidance counselor, I always enjoyed learning the in’s and out’s of different jobs and finding careers that fit the unique personalities of my students. Despite my many years in education, numerous trips around the world, a masters degree and an advanced degree, I admittedly knew next to nothing about this field until I met my husband and it became my way of life. Thinking back, my only experience with the fire department was when I lived in a college dorm and drunk students would pull the fire alarm at 2am. Fortunately, I have never had a fire in my home and, although that’s a very good thing, it also means that I had zero understanding or appreciation of this important service. I couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend how the system works, how the shifts are run, how much it costs, or, frankly, how fortunate I am to even have these services available to me in the first place. I’m in awe of the thousands of people that are willing to give up their time and their own comforts to help someone else in need. They aren’t motivated by money, but rather by the love and dedication they have for this job.
Since writing this article, my husband has been promoted to a chief officer position and will no longer be fighting fires. Instead, he will likely be commanding a fire scene from the outside and supporting his department. A new role comes with new responsibilities, new challenges, and a new perspective. Bring on the next chapter!
If you enjoyed reading this piece, you may want to check out my other articles Always a Fireman and I Should Have Been a Firefighter.
Loren Davine, M.Ed., C.A.G.S., is the Executive Director of NoFires, Inc. and a former high school guidance counselor. She is also a full-time mom and the wife of Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine. Loren has been a member of Pioneer Valley Crossfit since 2008 and offers a unique perspective to our community on family, fitness, and fire safety for juvenile firesetters.
Loren can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about the NoFIRES program or to make a referral.
All other inquiries can be made to: email@example.com
Behind The Mask is devoted to firefighters, showcasing them as individuals within the realm of firefighting. Why do we do this job? What motivates us? Who are we when the mask comes off? From veterans to probies, it promises to give a little insight into our world and the people who do the job every day.
Behind The Mask: Captain Rich Tibbetts
Written by Deborah Kowal
Captain Rich Tibbetts has been working at Westover Air Reserve Base as a DOD (department of defense) civilian firefighter for the past six years. Rated as a GS8 and promoted to Captain this past September, Rich is thirty-eight years old, and currently in his thirteenth year within the fire service.
Originally from Barnstable Massachusetts, he now lives near Worcester with his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, and a three-year-old son. His family recently expanded with a new addition of a four-month-old boxer puppy. He commutes twice a week to the Westover base, working 48 hours on and 72 hours off, spending his time equally between home and the work.
Rich wanted to do something where he could help people, stay active, and avoid working behind a desk. He entered the United States Air Force at age 25 as a firefighter, with six-month deployments to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2005.
Before coming to Westover, he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB, in Anchorage Alaska for three and a half years, Otis AFB for eight months, and at Schriever AFB near Colorado Springs for two years. He was also deployed to Galina Alaska, near an Inuit village by the Yukon River for a month. Galina was supposed to be a one week posting, but was extended a month due to wildfires.
Not surprisingly, Captain Tibbetts does not care for the cold weather, having lived in it most of his life. His spends his free time with his family and keeping his children occupied. He is a sports fan of the Patriots and the Red Sox, and likes to fish, but doesn’t find much free time to do so.
Tibbetts says the best part of his job is the adrenaline when he gets the call, planning on the way to the incident and wondering what it may look like when he arrives on the scene. He likes the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen every day at work. Rich explained it could be anything from a plane crash to someone needing medical assistance; it's never the same.
360° ▸ What was your first fire?
Rich: It was in Alaska, at a car fire during the night. They use block heaters in Alaska to help keep car engines warm as it gets so cold. There are usually a couple of them a year, it started the whole vehicle on fire. I was the plugman on that one, hooked up the hose to the hydrant then got behind one of the hand linemen.
"A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere."
360° ▸ The call you will always remember that had the most impact
Rich: When I was on deployment in Iraq, we were off-duty and other medics were short-handed. We lived close to the medic tent so we were on standby if they needed anything. A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere. I remember I pulled out this lieutenant on a stretcher and his leg was beside him. I have never seen someone’s face so white before. He made it, but a couple of guys passed away, and I will definitely never forget that one.
360° ▸ Oddest or weirdest call?
Rich: The most awkward call was while I was in Colorado. There was a man, who while sitting on his toilet, had his hip “locked up”. I had to physically get behind him to lift him up while he was sitting there naked.
360° ▸ Funniest thing that happened to you on the job?
Rich: While I was stationed in Alaska, it was obviously always icy there, so the guys would go to get out of truck and slide and fall on their backs, but when you were on your last shift there you would get something called an Alaska Jacuzzi. The guys planned it for weeks, but they would make out of snow a pool, and fill it with water. Then they would tackle you, strap you on a backboard and put you in it. They would throw the nastiest junk in it, like whatever old food they could find, fish and stuff. That was crazy, but if they liked you they did that to you. That was the coldest I’ve ever been I think. Here on base we do joke around and do as much “pranking” as we can but without going over the line. We have to keep it light and not stressful.
First thoughts... for the last few questions tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.
One thing you are really good at?
I’m a good cook.
One thing you aren’t good at?
Probably just sitting around and not doing anything, being idle.
Favorite food while on duty?
Anything we do together, having any kind of family meal.
Your first thought when the alarm goes off?
One piece of equipment you rely on?
Nickname at work?
Tibby, at home it's Daddy.
Who has your back most at the firehouse?
All the guys do.
Something that you really love to do?
I like spending time with and teaching my kids.
If you could live anywhere in the world?
Somewhere warm, near the beach.
Can you dance?
Not really. I could dance, but am I good? I don’t know.
Copyright 2015 FIREGROUND360°. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the consent of FIREGROUND360° and it's authors.
Copyright 2014 FIREGROUND360°. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the consent of FIREGROUND360° and it's authors.
In an effort to help local first responders have a better understanding of communications in the Western Massachusetts Region, the Western Region Homeland Security Council has released its new video series detailing communications systems, assets and resources available to the region. This series of 12 short videos is a follow up to the Basic Communications and Interoperability series that was delivered to the region last year. Please take a moment and watch the series, and pass it on to anyone you feel could benefit from it.
The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Basic Communications and Interoperability Video provides western Massachusetts first responders an overview of public safety communications systems and assets in use throughout the region and the Commonwealth. The series provides a foundational understanding of radio communications. A set of twelve videos completes the series.
WRHSAC Basic Communications & Interoperability Video Series #1 Introduction
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