For the love of the job
I’ve been career 23 years now and never served as a call firefighter. Serving as chief for both a career and call departments, I truly appreciate what a call firefighter and their families really go through.
Recently, a 23-year veteran call firefighter retired from my department. We had a ceremony for him; we included his family, friends, and brother and sister firefighters and I listened to the speeches about dedication, hard work, and always being there to answer the bell.
Normally, retirement means riding off into the sunset, doing things that we want to do, or have thought about doing, for many years. In this case, the “retired” call firefighter will now be doing one job, his full time job. He will still work 40+ hours a week, still get up at the crack of dawn to go to work, and still be working weekends and holidays.
What many don’t know is that call firefighters are required to be trained in all aspects of firefighting and EMS, just as their career firefighter counterparts. The big difference is that they do most of their training after they have worked at their regular jobs all week. They have to keep up their skills, just as career firefighters do!
One of my goals as chief is to provide the same level of training so that all department members can be proficient on the fire ground. All call firefighters enroll at the Massachusetts Call-Volunteer Academy and they come out Firefighter 1 and 2 certified. Some are also sent to the Hampshire County Fire School to get the training they require or classes they have missed.
All of this training takes place after a full week of work! We also require them to be at drills monthly (sometime twice a month) and they all have to respond to, and maintain a certain percentage of calls… all of this while working another job. Have I mentioned family time yet??? There doesn't seem to be much time left for that, does there.
Thinking back to the retirement party I remember speaking with the retiree’s wife and her happily telling me, “Now I will have time to spend with my husband.”
So I look at all this and ask myself, why would anybody want to be a call firefighter? It is a lot of work! I already know the answer. People want to give back to their community; they want to help others in their time of need. Some may want to fulfill their childhood dreams, while others just want to belong to the best group in the world. They’re definitely not in it for the money… they just doing it for the love of doing it.
As the retirement ceremony concluded, the retiree’s last words said to everyone, “I’ll still be around to help if you need it.”
It’s ingrained in every firefighter.
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Chief Bob Authier graduated Holyoke Community College majoring in Criminal Justice in 1989. He started his career as a firefighter with Holyoke Fire Department in 1991. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 2001, Captain in 2003, achieved Deputy Chief in 2005 and earned EMT in 2008. Chief Authier became Chief Fire District No.1 for South Hadley Fire Department in 2011 and became the accredited Fire Chief in 2013 where performs his duties today.
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