Love Being a Firefighter? Keep Pushing and Prove It

Odds are that right now, you are thinking about how wonderful your Thanksgiving (food) was and how great the upcoming Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's holiday season (food) is going to be. Typically, when we give thanks and celebrate, food is...


Odds are that right now, you are thinking about how wonderful your Thanksgiving (food) was and how great the upcoming Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's holiday season (food) is going to be. Typically, when we give thanks and celebrate, food is involved. Amen. Love being a...


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Odds are that right now, you are thinking about how wonderful your Thanksgiving (food) was and how great the upcoming Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's holiday season (food) is going to be. Typically, when we give thanks and celebrate, food is involved. Amen.

Love being a firefighter? After we get filled up with spirit, celebration, food and family, we often sit back and start thinking about stuff, and about being firefighters. This time of year, we especially think about next year. What are we going to do? What will the economy do? What about all the firefighters who have lost their jobs? What about the cities that now, with horrendous cuts, continue to fool themselves and their citizens into thinking that even with the cuts we'll all be just fine. That is, until "that" fire comes in. Sometimes we can make a difference and sometimes we simply can't. That doesn't at all mean that we give up when there is hope of any kind. It's just that sometimes it's time to take on other issues and battles.

I was just with a good friend who also writes a monthly column. John Salka and I were talking about how much time anyone should spend trying to change something that simply will not change. We agreed that each of us has only so much energy and time, and that it should be put to the best use possible, to good use to make a real difference. Now, to be clear, neither he nor I (or most of our friends, and probably you) gives up very easily, absolutely not, and we will often push hard. And, like most of you, we absolutely love being firefighters. But sometimes, we all must "size-up" and determine the best "tactics" when it comes to changing things — even possibly "writing off" the unchangeable and just try to save the block, so to speak. But more often than not, we keep pushing.

Because it is the Christmas season, I am going to take some liberty and share a story with you about a firefighter who was not one to give up. He kept pushing.

A few weeks ago, the fire service lost a fire chief named Pete Brown to cancer. Chief Brown was the fire chief for the Aniak Volunteer Fire Department, a small, rural community on the Kuskokwim River in western Alaska. (Chief Brown also served in the U.S. military during Vietnam.) The entire fire department: about a half-dozen adults, including a schoolteacher and bush pilot, and about a dozen high school students. Girl students, to be specific. Their equipment: one ambulance and an aging 1976 pumper truck in need of repair. This year, the Aniak firefighters will handle at least 300 emergency calls.

Aniak is isolated. There are no roads to any other village in Alaska, and Anchorage is 350 miles away. The only way to access Aniak is via aircraft; it's about a 1½-hour flight from Anchorage. Aniak, population 572, doesn't offer many of the things young people growing up seem to want — no multiplex, no music scene, few jobs. The firefighters' closest mutual aid is the Bethel Fire Department, which is about a half-hour away by plane and several hours by boat.

It takes someone special to be a "great" fire chief and, according to friends in Alaska, Chief Pete Brown was one of the greatest. As the volunteer fire chief for Aniak, Pete launched an ambulance service with borrowed pickups and snow machines. He saved lives up and down the Kuskokwim River and trained more than two decades of village teenagers to do the same.

Teenagers? The facts are that back in the late 1990s, Chief Pete was presented with a common problem for fire chiefs: too few responders and a very small pool of potential members. Not one to give in to challenges, the chief tapped into a terrific resource. He went to the high school and spoke with the kids about getting involved in the fire department.

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