24 Hours with Station 41 - What it's Like to Be a Firefighter Today

A Behind the Badge Special Report

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 UTAH)  When we think about fire fighters many see images of them bravely fighting hot flames and choking smoke to save homes and save lives. While that happens -  these days about 90 percent of 911 calls have nothing to do with fire. More and more calls are medical issues. But no matter what the call is about - firefighters, medics and EMT's are always be ready to respond. 
Recently our ABC4 Special Projects Team spent 24 hours with one of the busiest fire houses in Utah. We ran on calls with them. We ate with them. And we even spent the night at the station. In this special Behind the Badge report - "24 hours with station 41" we see what it's like to be a firefighter today. 
Firefighter and paramedic Nate Smith assess and treats a woman who fell and cut her face and head. "This is going to sting." It's the type of call that he and fellow fire fighters from Station 41 in South Salt Lake handle everyday. "How does that feel? Any numbness or tingling anywhere?" It's not life or death situation, but it will require a ride in an ambulance to the hospital. Smith says "Every call is different. Even the calls that are the same are different." And Battalion Chief Kent Robertson compared calls to a puzzle. Every call is a puzzle. You have to figure out what is going on and be able to fix it. You got to be on your A game everyday."
For Smith and the other firefighters - every call is also chance to serve. "There are a lot of calls that are not emergencies or a lot for us to do, but those calls where we actually intervene and we do provide care..I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment to be there for that person." 
But before they can respond to calls like this the squad begins each morning getting prepared. "Go through all our medical gear. Go through all our chain saws. Look at our hoses - make sure everything is good." On this day, they actually had a chance to enjoy breakfast and each others company for a few minutes. Then the calls began. 
A panic attack at a McDonalds. 
A 911 call for chest pain. 
Then a two car accident - just one block from the first station.
Fire fighters, like Cody Hoffman, say no matter what the call - they just try to help however they can. "I've always liked to help people. That is just something - I don't know where it came from, but its instilled in me. And I love to help people."
And that help was needed eight more times during our visit. There were a couple of psych calls. And medical calls. And then there was an accident - involving a handful of cars on I-15. Battalion Chief Kent Robertson. "When we are out in the community someone is having a bad day." And on this particular evening - that bad day is affecting a lot of people. 
Call after call - the six man crew responds with speed and expertise. But they say - sometimes doing this for a living can take it's toll. Smith says "When I am on a call I have a job. And I have a goal and I provide the care. Its not tell we step away from that situation that we say wow, that was pretty intense." 
During our 24 hours - we also learned about how many horrible accidents and sad situations they see. Quinton Addison says "What we see isn't necessarily something anybody should see." 
And we learned about the mental and emotional toll that takes on them. Smith says "There's becoming a lot more awareness about the mental health of first responders and that kind of secondary PTSD of constantly seeing traumatic events and dealing with people in there worst times and kind of having to carry that along with you."
So, how do first responders cope and deal with this? They say they have various ways. Smith says "Sometimes I just go home and hug my kids a little longer than normal." Others say they go to the gym. The fire department is very aware of this - in fact more and more efforts are being made to let fire fighters know there is help available. And its something Chief Robertson watches carefully. "As soon as I know something bad has happened. I am at the station. And were talking about it and were dealing with it as a group. And then I'll check with them on their days off."  
Then there are the sacrifices they make as first responders. "We spend a lot of time away from home. Were here for those 48 hours." They miss out on a lot of sleep because most nights involve emergency calls. While we were with Station 41 - we got to bed at 1 A.M. - then got a call at 3 A.M. 
While those issues are very real. When you watch these fire fighters and medics in action. You don't hear complaining. You just hear how much they care. Addison says, "Going on calls. Helping people and feeling like you are actually making a difference in someone's life. That is one of the most rewarding things to me." And you see how much they love their jobs. "I'll do it til the day I can't do it anymore."  (hoffman)
For more on what these firefighters are all about - click on the second video - the web extra. And to nominate an officer or firefighter for a future story go to:   http://www.good4utah.com/badge


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