Being a firefighter becomes a part of who you are. You take something from every call that you go on. Sometimes it’s just a better method of connecting hose lines, and sometimes it’s the image of a patient’s face during that seemingly endless ambulance ride to the hospital.
I have always wanted to be an EMT and run with an ambulance service, but never imagined myself as a firefighter. When I went to the Plymouth Fire Department to fill out the required paperwork for a ride-along opportunity, the on-duty firefighter, John Keller, suggested that I join the fire service as well, saying, “That’s where all the action is.” I told him that I would think about it and let him know. That night, I went home and watched the premiere of the CBS documentary “9/11″. By the time the show was over, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be involved with the fire service as well as rescue. The documentary showed the meaning behind the Maltese Cross, a uniform badge worn by all firefighters, along with a side of the fire service that I can only now begin to understand and appreciate.
In just the short year and a half that I have been involved with Plymouth Fire and Rescue, it seems that everything I do is affected, one way or another: from appreciating the little things in life, knowing that in a moment’s notice everything can change, to making sure there is an easily accessible outfit to throw on during a middle-of-the-night frantic rush to make the first truck out of the station. You begin to appreciate the value of wearing sneakers and pants while running to the station in your dress and heels. The connections you establish with your fellow firefighters are like no other. The moment you jump on the apparatus, your only identity is that of a firefighter; whether male or female, your sole purpose is to protect life and property, extinguish the fire as fast as possible, and make sure you and everyone sitting beside you in that truck gets back to the station safely.
Back in September 2002, there seemed to be a never-ending flow of Plymouth State students joining the department. You couldn’t enter the firehouse without seeing a new face. Captain VonIderstine once commented on responding to calls with guys he hadn’t even met yet. When I left for Christmas break, we had a total of seven new PSU members, some I knew well and some I had not yet met. Eight of us were signed up to begin our initial training in Firefighter I at the firehouse in Lincoln, N.H., when we returned from break.
This class allowed the eight of us not only to learn the beginning techniques of firefighting, but to connect on a level beyond what we had already established with fellow Plymouth firefighters. Lieutenant Jack Olmstead referred to us as “Gary and the Rookies” after various late-night returns to the firehouse from class, where we would inevitably find a new way to antagonize the lieutenant’s partner, Gary Mack, in hopes of getting a reaction.
The training we received from Firefighter I gave us the foundation to begin building our skills and knowledge as firefighters. In the fire service, you can learn the techniques in a classroom setting and practice them in a controlled atmosphere, but it isn’t until you go into a burning building where anything is possible that you realize all of your training has taught you that the unexpected is what to expect.
In May, after finishing four months of classroom training, we were given the opportunity to put our newly-obtained knowledge to use when we spent a weekend at the Fire Academy in Concord, N.H. For some, it was their first time in a smoke-filled room, at extreme heat, where vision is eliminated. For many, this weekend would be the first test of their ability to handle the job.
When we arrived at the academy, we were separated into teams. The other members of my team were Sean Casey from the Lincoln Fire Department and Joe Baumann, a fellow Plymouth firefighter and Plymouth State student. Together, each team would perform a series of evolutions that included venting, search and rescue, suppression and the maze.
The maze was a simulation of various situations that could be encountered while maneuvering around in a burning building. As a team, we were responsible for blindly finding our way through tunnels that ended with sharp turns, closed doors, a series of rafters we had to climb over, and a group of hanging cables we had to maneuver under and, in most cases, from which we untangled our partner.
These evolutions showed the importance of trust and communication. In a burning building, it can be impossible to see or hear your partner. You have to establish alternate forms of communication. After finding a victim during our search and rescue evolution, Joe, Sean and I established a one-tap-means-go, two-taps-means-stop technique to work together to get the victim out.
The value of this class went beyond learning the basic techniques of firefighting. It gave the eight of us an opportunity to come together and form a unit. The bond we established is something none of us will ever forget. It also gave us the opportunity to meet fellow firefighters who were at the same point in their careers. Some of these people we now see on mutual aid calls to neighboring towns, and some we hoped would rejoin us in the fall when we continued our training at the Campton, N.H., firehouse with Firefighter II.
We have had 14 Plymouth State students join the fire department since I did, putting us at full capacity of 42 members. That’s 42 people willing to risk their lives to save others at any given moment. Each of us, along with the firefighters in the 9/11 documentary and fellow firefighters everywhere, wear a badge of honor, known as the Maltese Cross. Only now do I understand and accept the meaning behind it: those who wear it are willing to lay down their lives for others. It truly is “a fireman’s badge of honor, signifying that he works in courage—a ladder rung away from death” (source unknown).
Bobbi Jo Adams is a junior accounting major from Lisbon, N.H. She serves as a fellow in the alumni office, building manager in the Hartman Union Building, and recently finished her second and last term of AmeriCorps.
At a Moment’s Notice
Volunteer firefighters and/or EMTs are ready at a moment’s notice to risk their lives for the Plymouth community. As of the fall 2003 semester, the following PSU students were volunteer firefighters/EMTs with the Plymouth Fire Department: Bobbi Jo Adams, junior accounting major, Lisbon, N.H.
Eli Avery, sophomore biology major, Antrim, N.H.
Joseph Baumann, junior psychology major, Shrewsbury, Mass.
Thomas Beaumont, senior chemistry major, Antrim, N.H.
Benjamin Chaffee, senior biology major, Langdon, N.H.
Nathan Chaffee, first year anthropology major, Langdon, N.H.
Mike Gallas, sophomore management major, New Milford, Conn.
Chris Gloninger, sophomore meteorology major, Sag Harbor, N.Y.
Amelia Hough, first year athletic training major, Gloucester, Mass.
Jonathan Lermann, senior outdoor recreation major, Fort Myers, Fla.
Michael Nachajski, sophomore environmental planning major, North Walpole, N.H.
John Polese, junior chemistry major, South Salem, N.Y.
Ryan Schruender, sophomore management major, North Andover, Mass.
Chris Springer, sophomore physical education major, Bedford, Mass.
Andrew Viger, junior management major, Pelham, N.H.
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