July 14, 2005. That day would have a profound impact on my career. It was Thursday, just another Thursday, nothing special about that day.
Before I tell you about July 14th, let me tell you about Todd. He and I were very similar; we joined the same call fire department, around the same time. We were about the same age, and had the same goals. Todd and I wanted the same thing, to be a career firefighter. I was first to achieve career and Todd soon after. I was hired by my hometown fire department; Todd became a career firefighter in North Carolina. Before we knew it we were both living our dreams, both career firefighters doing the job we so eagerly wanted.
Todd became a father and had two beautiful girls that he loved very much. Overtime we lost touch; you know, this thing called life happened. Sure I would see him, he would visit, swing by the station, and we would laugh, remember good times, and share new war stories. Nonetheless, we lost touch. That is until July 14,2005.
You see July 14th, like I said was just another Thursday, just another shift at the fire department. In North Carolina they had a few calls that day, but nothing out of the ordinary. At 5 pm the bell rang-out for a fire in a tree and Todd’s crew responded. They extinguished the fire and cleared the scene. It was a “no big-deal” type of call, the everyday run that we forget about. Later that night this call would turn into a big deal and would change many lives forever. Todd’s crew was called back to the same tree and it was burning again. Again, they extinguished it, however, this time it was different. Unknown to the firefighters below, a large tree limb had burned through and fell. It struck and killed my friend Todd. Yeah, you heard me, a tree limb. You see my friend did everything right – he was wearing proper protective equipment and did what he has done countless times before. Todd was 32. He did his job correctly and it was a freak accident.
Why am I telling you this? Every firefighter knows there is risk, the risk every time we go on a call. We accept it and live with it. We might feel that, at times, we are invincible. After all, we are firefighters, right? We don’t need that seatbelt; we don’t need to wear a safety vest, I am a firefighter and nothing can touch me. I am here to tell you never take your safety for granted. Bad things can and will happen. Enjoy being a firefighter, there is no greater calling. Be proud that you are a firefighter. Honor our lost and never forget.
I now take all my recruits to Todd’s gravesite. We honor him and discuss the painful reminder that no call is ever “routine” and drill home safety being priority one. In the past two weeks alone, we all know how and why a structure fire can change so many lives. I’m here to remind us all that it doesn't have to be a fire or a major incident for that matter; it could be something as simple as a tree limb on just another Thursday.
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Chief Robert Strahan started his career as a Firefighter/EMT for Gill Fire Department in 1991. Worked as a seasonal firefighter for DCR for several years where he also served on the Massachusetts wildfire crew where he was deployed to several fires across the United States. Hired by Greenfield Fire in1997, promoted to Captain in 2003, Deputy Chief in 2007, and has been serving as Fire Chief since 2013. Chief Strahan has been the Greenfield Emergency Management Director since 2005. He is the assistant team leader of the West team for the Department of Fire Services Special Operations Unit. He is a certified COM-L and is also a member of the Northwestern Massachusetts Incident Management Team where he serves as the Operations Section Chief.